Saturday, 14 May 2011
CANNES 2011 - Miss Bala
Miss Bala "Miss Bullet" (2011) dir. Gerardo Naranjo
Starring Stephanie Sigman, Noe Hernandez
By Blair Stewart
Sometimes I come out of a movie theatre and the film I've just seen is mighty enough that I want to walk along the streets afterwards and express my happiness to passing strangers. Tonight I had that rare joy. Gerardo Naranjo's Miss Bala is pure cinema, a head above the mostly minor works I've seen so far at Cannes, a coal-black rat maze of a film with a young woman tumbling up the steps of Mexican border anarchy towards absurdity.
Stephanie Sigman is Laura, the dirt-broke shirt-vendor in Tijuana, starting her day by entering into the local beauty pageant and ending the night an ensnared accomplice in a freeform ground battle between kingpin Lido (Noe Hernandez), his army of triggermen and Lido's local wonk officials going all-in against the gringos of the D.E.A. After witnessing Lido's Darwinistic housecleaning aptitude, Laura's safety is now tied to the drug-runner with her prospects on par with that of Schrodinger's cat. The story takes the humble girl and pitches her through unceasing sequences encapsulating Naranjo's disgust with the systemic rot of the federales, the silence of the feminicidios and the cartels above all, from the Baja to Tamaulipas state and San Diego to El Paso.
Miss Bala shifts so many gears it could enter an off-road rally and win, and it often appears to be heading towards preposterousness before wantonly leaping right into it. Lately, having watched so many unambitious releases coming from the mainstream and the art-house, it is so gratifying now to see a film that ignores plausibleness and the audiences' expectations to just keep running you ragged for two hours.
The tension of Laura's endangerment is perfectly sustained, only for Bala to dip into cruel satire until the story once again kicks into escalating carnage of ambitious direction. Stephanie Sigman is the same kind of sympathetic 'living barometer' of vast human destruction as Polanski had done when he focused on the plight of one man to express the enormity of the Holocaust in The Pianist. In his first role, Noe Hernandez as Lido has a fearsome Charles Bronson quality about him with dull black eyes and the odd charisma of a man who massacres casually.
Naranjo takes the myriad of ongoing violations between/against his countrymen, distills them into the plight of a lone girl at the mercy of Mexico's (and America's) phantom war dividing her land, then uses action as a Trojan horse to unleash his indignation when the audience might be hoping for entertainment. How awesome.
The script by Naranjo and Mauricio Katz is economical and confident in character and action, but the tandem of Naranjo and his cinematographer Mátyás Erdély is where the film succeeds. It’s a collaboration reminiscent of Alfonso Cuaron and Emmanuel Lubezki's best work together. Dollies, brilliant crane shots, Steadicam, mise-en-scène – the film is in constant, justified movement to match the pace of the story, and Naranjo knows what a camera is capable of and how it should really move.
I expect Miss Bala to be somewhere high up on my year-end list of best films.