NYFF Spotlight: Miss Bala

Film: Miss Bala
Director: Gerardo Naranjo
Program: Main Slate
Tickets: Oct. 1, Oct. 2

Why you should see it:
Miss Bala, the latest feature from from director Gerardo Naranjo, marks a major step in the career of the Mexican filmmaker. The story of a Mexican beauty queen entangled in a drug battle and then arrested, the seemingly outrageous idea is actually based in reality. Set in Baja California, the film stars Stephanie Sigman (a former model) in the lead role. The film is produced by Canana, Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna and Pablo Cruz's busy Mexican film company. Unwilling to get to a point where he's repeating films he's already made, Naranjo pushed himself to grapple with the current drug war in his home country. "Directors evolve and most of them get to a point where they lose contact with their art," Naranjo explained, adding that the story is "a perfect metaphor for the way the country has been ruled the way corruption permeates everything and involves every aspect of life in Mexico."

Track record:
Cannes, Toronto, San Sebastián

About the director:
Gerardo Naranjo studied at the American Film Institute before he completed his first feature, Drama/Mex. Getting a bit bored with his own work in the wake of his last film, I'm Gonna Explode (Voy A Explotar), Naranjo decided to shake up his entire approach to making movies. "I reached a point where I was not even challenging myself," Naranjo explained in Cannes. "I felt I had to do something I didn't know how to do." While his previous films grew out of a very free-flowing process, resulting in rough cuts that would clock in at up to six hours long, his latest came from a controlled environment. 155 shots to start, trimmed down to 130 cuts. "Not a single thing that is not pre-planned," Naranjo explained of his new movie. In fact, he even shot the whole movie once in video -- to get everyone on the same page -- before filming it for real.

What the critics are saying:
"With the blistering firecracker that is Miss Bala, next-gen Mexican director and AFI grad Gerardo Naranjo delivers on the promise of such well-respected early pics as Drama/Mex and I'm Gonna Explode, revealing them as dry runs for this Scarface-scary depiction of south-of-the-border crime run amok... the pic could easily land Naranjo his choice of Hollywood projects, as well as distribution in the U.S. and abroad." Peter Debruge, Variety

"Naranjo renders her harrowing ordeal in spectacular style, with lots of long, dynamic takes shot from unconventional vantage points, and a relentless pace that shuttles his heroine from one tense situation to another without pausing for breath. Though it toes a delicate line between exploitation movie and movie about exploitation, that’s part of what gives the film its charge." Noel Murray & Scott Tobias, AV Club

“Naranjo finds his way brilliantly in many scenes, including action scenes, with neither pomposity nor sordid realism, yet with an energetic political standpoint, and quite some style.” Marie-Pierre Duhamel, MUBI 

What the NYFF programmers say:
Miss Bala is the new film by Gerardo Naranjo, who was in the festival about three years ago with the film I’m Gonna Explode. He’s definitely one of the brightest of the new talents coming from Mexico. This is probably his most commercial and accessible movie to date. It’s a movie about a beauty pageant contestant who gets caught up in the world of drug trafficking, somewhat unwittingly. It’s kind of an interesting mix of thriller elements and human drama with some very high-octane action, very beautifully filmed in widescreen. And a very striking performance by the lead actress, Stephanie Sigman. A real discovery.” - Scott Foundas, Associate Program Director

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