Gerardo Naranjo is the genius behind the hit Spanish-language film “Miss Bala” which charts the experiences of a Mexican beauty pageant Queen, Laura Guerrero (Stephanie Sigman), who is drawn into the activities of a drug trafficking operation following the disappearance of her friend from a nightclub.
Based on a real life woman, who was caught up in a major gangland arrest, the film shows the terrifying violence at the heart of the drug lords’ grip on Mexico, which has claimed thousands of lives.
Gerardo Naranjo spoke to The Global Herald ahead of the London premiere of the film. Born in Guanajuato, Mexico, Naranjo grew up in the conservative central region of the country without much exposure to TV, radio or movies, except when his Father used to take him to the cinema. Naranjo started out acting in films for friends before taking a course in directing at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles.
Naranjo sees Miss Bala as a “political act” against the violence and corruption in Mexico. He said “I don’t agree with it and feel very strongly this shouldn’t be our reality”. Asked about how real the bullets sound on the audio track, Naranjo explained that it was important for him for the film to make violence look “pathetic and terrifying”, saying that he disagreed with how Hollywood could often show violence in a gratuitous and glorified way. He wanted to make the gunshot sounds a “present” experience and portray the fear that it instills in people.
Naranjo explains that he is not a stranger to violence, having experienced it many times. “I am not a gun person. I don’t like to be around violence. The film is a rebellion to that. I hate being scared. The film began as an act of rebellion to that.”
The film is based on the real life story of a beautiful woman accused of being part of a drug gang. Pablo Cruz first saw the story in a newspaper and took the clipping to Gerardo Narajo. The met with the lady featured in the news item and interviewed her, but gradually got the feeling that they didn’t want to be pressurised by the facts, choosing instead to “liberate” the story and “talk more freely” about the subjects within it by fictionalising the tale.
Naranjo hopes that Miss Bala will inspire ordinary people to fight corruption. “Everything is corrupt, people talk about government corruption but they accept the minor crimes close to them all the time”. Naranjo says that Mexicans should learn to fight little crimes individually and not just in a physical way – resisting the temptations that the heroine of the film gives in to – shelter, security, fame, wealth. Naranjo accepts that ordinary people “weren’t educated in the military arts” and cannot shoot their way out of a problem like Bruce Willis, hence the movie’s focus on small acts of resistance and acceptance.
On the subject of language, Naranjo says that, to him, Spanish sounds more like real life than English, the language of Hollywood, which to him represents fiction. Even the English language dialogue in Miss Bala does not sound like that of an action movie, despite the familiar action film character dealing weapons and using stock phrases. Nevertheless, Naranjo enjoyed working on the action sequences and working “in a controlled way, well planned and careful”.
Unsurprisingly, the film has begun its way to an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, with a nomination from Mexico. It is an affecting account of a young woman, her dreams and a dangerous country. Laura is an anti-hero of the very best calibre – beautiful, vulnerable, but ultimately vain and corrupt. A strong morality pervades the film, replacing an orchestral score with a quiet, dignified story telling of the tragedy of Mexico’s lawlessness. The glitz and glam of the beauty pageant are empty, but the love of family is genuinely warming. An excellent film created with a passion for the truth.
Miss Bala was released in Mexico on 9th September 2011. The English subtitled version is out in the UK and Ireland cinemas on Friday 28th October 2011. It has already had a limited release in the USA and will hit French screens in May 2012.