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Film Review

Miss Bala

Not a day goes by that we don't read of horrendous killings in the Mexican drug wars. Corruption is institutionalized, ordinary people are preyed upon and many live in constant fear, especially in those cities near the border that have seen so much violence. In 2006, President Calderon ordered the Mexican army into the fight on drug gangs, as the police had long been co-opted and outgunned. The appearance is of a disintegrating, dysfunction country, and indications are that the situation is getting worse, not better. The United States is heavily involved and partially responsible as the principal buyer of drugs and the principal supplier of sophisticated weaponry to the drug gangs. Even the constant seizure of large amounts of illegal drugs coming over the border barely puts a dent into the quantity flowing into this country. Informed estimates are that barely 10% of these drugs are intercepted. Probably no one reading this review has been directly or even indirectly affected by this war. It is the Mexican citizen that is being terrorized. We may understand intellectually, but just cannot really appreciate their terrible situation. The level of violence is incomprehensible: over 40,000 people have been killed in the past five years. In another 18 months, the number of Mexicans killed will exceed the number of Americans killed in the Vietnam War, 58,000. This, in a country with only one third the population of the United States.

A few films have attempted to realistically show this world, but most have been similar to "No Country for Old Men", with its monsterish villain, a caricature of grim reality. But now a courageous Mexican director and writer have produced a very accomplished, powerful film that takes us into that world. Gerardo Naranjo directed a screenplay written by himself and Mauricio Katz, called "Miss Bala". It tell the story of a poor young woman In Baja California, near the border, living with her father and younger brother, supporting themselves by selling clothing. Laura is naive but beautiful, devoted to her brother, and loves to go to clubs in the evening with her more worldly girlfriend. One night, while the two are at a club, something terrible happens. Laura begins a descent into a nightmare, struggling to simply stay alive. We see a drug gang from the inside out, where mercy doesn't exist. This is a very fast paced thriller, with much violence and a gritty reality that we simply do not see in American films. The tension is excruciating, yet the pace is unrelenting. I could hardly breath at times. Acting is uniformly outstanding, and seems so real that it is hard to believe you are watching professional actors. Cinematography is very natural, with mostly handheld cameras, often with closeups and unusual camera angles. For the first few minutes of the film, the camera follows behind Laura, showing only her hair and upper back. This is hype-realism: we are there. Yet nothing seems embellished or exaggerated. Running time is 113 minutes, and every minute has the feeling of truth, bleak truth. There is definitely graphic violence, yet it is as much a part of this nightmarish world as the sun and sky is to ours. I felt exhausted after leaving the theater, but "Miss Bala" is a tremendous film and I recommend it highly. It should be seen on the big screen. Just opened at the Kabuki.

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