Gerardo Naranjo’s MISS BALA (Mexico)

Saturday (10/8), 8pm and Monday (10/10), 8:35pm

Gerardo Naranjo’s first feature after the Nouvelle Vague-ish I’M GONNA EXPLODE (2008) is a heart-racing allegory that likens the corruption of contemporary Mexico to a rigged beauty pageant. The title character is a poor 23-year-old from Tijuana who’s accepted into the Miss Baja California beauty contest just when a powerful drug cartel threatens her into running their deadly errands. The juggling of these responsibilities becomes a source of tension as well as dark humor; the movie’s underlying joke is that no matter what Laura does, she’s always representing Mexican society. Naranjo doesn’t force any of his ironies, however: The filmmaking is so virtuosic that you’re always caught up in the rush of events, the implications emerging only gradually. Like his countryman Alfonso Cuarón, Naranjo works in complicated, movement-heavy long takes, particularly during the epic gun battles: It’s three-dimensional filmmaking, with the camera moving nearly as much as the many players in the drama. There are also moments when Naranjo’s camera settles on some stunning widescreen composition, and these flashes of self-contained beauty are no less surprising for seeming to emerge, impossibly, from the general chaos. This will likely spark conversations about the ongoing drug war along the U.S.-Mexico border (as a final title card reminds us, it’s left tens of thousands of casualties in the last five years alone); but first it demands to be experienced as the galvanizing comic nightmare it is. (2011, 113 min, 35mm widescreen) –Ben Sachs

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