Cause and effect is a well used plot devices in movies. One choice made early on can have repercussions that can lead to unexpected outcomes by the end. The 2011 film Miss Bala has it’s entire structure based around this device.
The story focuses almost exclusively on Laura (Stephanie Sigman), a twenty three year old living in the outskirts of Mexico City. Along with her Father and brother she operates a Laundry service from her home. Laura has aspirations. She wants to enter and win the Miss Baha California beauty pageant to give her and her family a step up in life. One of her friends, Jessica (Irene Azula), arranges an audition for Laura and after arriving late they are able to persuade the organisers to admit Laura to the contest. To celebrate the two girls go to a local club. While partying in the club’s VIP area with businessmen, local political and Police officials, Laura steps out to use the facilities. Before she returns the club is attacked by members of a drug cartel. Bloodshed ensues. Laura is found in the toilets but is allowed to escape by the leader of the gang after they ascertain her identity and home address.
Shortly afterwards as she is outside the club Laura realises that she needs to make sure that Jessica is alive and retrieve her only dress from the crime scene so she can take part in the pageant. She fails on both counts and is excluded from the Pageant as she (understandably) fails to turn up for rehearsals. The leader of the Drug cartel, Lino Valdez (Noe Hernandez) soon tracks down Laura and with the promise of getting her back into the competition if she caries out a couple of tasks for him. The first one, where Laura has to deliver a car with ‘packages’ to the local police station, ends in a police ambush and a shootout. Laura barely gets out alive. Only with the help of Lin Vadez does she gaet to safety. The police identify and catch up with Laura and persuade her to become an informant. Laura, caught in the middle of this, has to decide what to do for the benefit of herself, her family and her future.
Loosely based on real events, the film pulls no punches. It gives a stark and uncompromising view of the of the realities of the never ending drug wars that effect ordinary people trying to get on with their lives. There is a strong sense of helplessness running through the film as there are no definite distinctions between the criminals and the authorities. There is a good deal of overlap between the Army, the Police and the Drug cartel which blurs the lines between good and evil, right and wrong and friend or foe. It makes out that everything is available for a price and there are many people willing to sell their souls in the pursuit of this.
The film is seen from the perspective of Laura. She features prominently in almost every scene and it is very much her path we are following. As a result of the first horrific events Laura is clearly traumatised. She is an innocent in all this. Her reaction to the difficult situations she finds herself in is muted and accepting. At no point does she take command of her problems. Instead she adopts an almost dislocated state where it is like she is only viewing the events around her.
The main performance from Stephanie Sigman as Laura is superb. She is totally convincing as the girl facing a major dilemma. Instead of an over the top, weeping and wailing performance, Laura is portrayed in a quiet and still way. There are a number of sequences where Laura has to make difficult choices. She has to either accept her task or run. In most films the main character would have a prop such as a phone or a side kick to vocalise the choice. Not in this film. This is shown on screen using close ups of Laura’s face. No dialogue is required. The actor, with a great deal of skill, is able to convey the inner turmoil facing Laura. A great piece of acting.
The film is shot in a documentary style with many hand held shots adding realism to the story. The director, Gerardo Naranjo, has deliberately set out to convey the story in a realistic manner with no techniques that would take the audience out the story. There is a sequence where Laura is caught in the crossfire between the Cartel and the Police. There are no glamorous shots here. No urgent music, slow motion, build up to a climax or snappy
Dialogue. it is brutal and it is powerful.
Overall a very well made and absorbing film that deserved a larger audience that it received on its initial