Miss Bala: A Tale of Traffickers and Tiaras
A new film depicts the drug war from the POV of—and as perpetrated by—a Mexican beauty queen.
Director Gerardo Naranjo’s new Spanish-language film Miss Bala is ostensibly about the bloody Mexican drug war—through the eyes of an aspiring beauty pageant contestant—but plays out more like a David Lynch-ian descent into hell for its female lead, played by Stephanie Sigman. Miss Bala (“Miss Bullet”) is based on the true story of former Miss Hispanic America Laura Zuniga, aka “Miss Narco,” who made headlines in 2008 when she was busted on drug trafficking charges.
Laura is first seen at home in Tijuana with her brother and father, who expresses reservations about her getting involved with “those people” at the pageant. She goes anyway, meeting up with a friend who eases her path—and who later gets caught in up in an attack on a nightclub by a group of ragtag cartel warriors. Seeking to find out what happened to her friend, Laura gets handed over to the gang—led by the malevolent Lino Valdez (Noe Hernandez)—and forced to participate in a variety of crimes and reprisals against the DEA and the Mexican army and police. Not a bump of cocaine or a bud of weed is seen; rather, the somewhat context-free violence takes place against the backdrop of daily civilian life in Tijuana, as the cartels execute military-style maneuvers. One of the best scenes depicts Laura hiking home, with bombed-out Tijuana buildings ablaze in the distance. But the film gets weirder from there: The pageant crowning is surreal, and the depredations to which Laura is subjected grow more lurid. A pre-credits summary of the costs of the drug war (36,000 dead, a $25-billion-a-year industry) attempts to tie the movie back to reality. But by then, things have gone too far off the deep end to mean much.