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MISS BALA: Deferred Drug Dreams

In a land where gang violence and money rules, no one is safe and no one will protect you.

Words: Zoy Britton

Gerardo Naranjo’s film Miss Bala tells the violent tale of Mexico torn apart by warring cartels through the eyes of the naturally beautiful Laura Guerrero, played by Stephanie Sigman. Guerrero’s tragic fate seems inextricably intertwined with her roots as the eldest daughter of a poor family who sell clothes from a small textile farm outside of the city. Her innocent beauty shines through shy smiles and tragically hopeful brown doe eyes, that peer into the deepest desire of her naïve spirit: to successfully compete in Mexico’s Miss Baja pageant, which, in theory, would grant her notoriety and unlimited opportunities for wealth. Guerrero’s desperate wishes to rise above her family’s poverty wax fatalistic against the backdrop of battleground Mexico, a place where one should never be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Fast forward to the moment aspiring beauty queen’s dreams of becoming Miss Baja go horribly astray, when the debutante unfortunately falls into the clutches of Lino Valdez (Noé Hernandez), an infamous gang leader, after a shooting at a local club. Guerrero would have probably fared better had her thread of destiny been cut by the Fates, but instead she is enlisted as a money mule on a journey that includes the taking over of her home (after Lino’s hideout is ransacked by DEA agents), the murder of a DEA agent and rape. Two of the most disturbingly-arousing scenes are sexual; Ironically, Naranjo ensures that all such scenes are startlingly silent. You will almost wish for a noise, for Guerrero to perhaps even whisper “stop” during such deliberate violations, but there is nothing but Lino’s primal thrusting and Guerrero’s sadly relenting reticence.

Actor Gael Garcia Bernal held the role of executive producer of the project, and as is often the case with many films involving Bernal, the film is rife with POV shots— Laura staring into the mirror waiting to be raped, yet again, by a lecherous General— a pliable but unwilling tool in an assassination plot hatched by Lino and co. Guerrero’s silence throughout her experience speaks volumes as the watcher is forced to “guess” exactly what she’s thinking. Though there are many emotions one could hazard, any observant viewer can certainly see what has gone missing since the film’s idealistic start: hope. Sometime during the film, while competing in the pageant, a moderator asks Guerrero what her greatest wish is for the world. To which she haltingly replies, “I believe…” before fleeing the stage. Her ordeal has not only stripped her of hope, but it also seems her identity, her belief and her values, have fallen just the same.

Perhaps it is this hopelessness, this lack of identity that causes Laura to lose her voice- save for random screams of terror when she is first kidnapped by Lino and later, when she is discarded by, ironically, the police. Through it all Guerrero is treated no better than a donkey, an animal to be used for whatever means or ends; ends that the staggering death toll declares impossible, ends that cannot possibly reach fruition until all of Mexico (save for the very rich parts, of course) becomes a blood-spattered graveyard.

The film does well to show that Mexico’s policing tactics are no better, cleverly revealing how starkly similar to the cartel they are. Without giving too much away, Miss Bala ends with a list of stats based on the failed War on Drugs, specifically the 36,000 lives claimed since 2005, many of which belonged to innocent civilians. Utterly terrifying on screen, one can only imagine what life is like—hoping to evade such horrific consequences on any given day— in real time there. Knowing that no one can never truly feel safe in a place riddled with greed and cash politics, Miss Bala proves that everyone is a potential victim to the cartel.

Miss Bala is currently showing at select theaters nationwide.

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