Up until now, Mexican director Gerardo Naranjo’s movies have seemed more devoted to energy than content. Earlier efforts like I’m Gonna Explode were brash and callow little things, translating the primal diegetic rebellion of Jean-Luc Godard into Spanish, enchanted by method, indifferent to message, positing his characters in a guerrilla war against the echoes of a distant history. But Naranjo’s new film, Miss Bala—among the toasts of this year’s Cannes Film Festival—may reveal his early work as the efforts of a revolutionary filmmaker killing time until his revolution.
Mexico has long been subjected to the hyper-violent and amorphous war between the DEA and the various drug cartels, but President Felipe Calderón’s 2006 crackdown on the criminal organizations has seen the conflict escalate beyond all precedent, resulting in the deaths of some 40,000 Mexican citizens over the last five years. The indiscriminate collateral damage has reduced several of the country’s states into battlegrounds, the violence almost casually achieving a reach and velocity more common to genocidal dictatorships. The bloodshed that has transformed Naranjo’s country has begun to transform his art: the broken psyche of civilian life has driven the filmmaker to refine and make raw his approach to cinematic expression. Read David Ehrlich’s review of Miss Bala.