Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Miss Bala, El Infierno, El Velador, Reportero

Posted in the Borderland Beat Forum by Havana

NY Times mentions 4 Notable Mexican Films of the last two years

In the Crossfire of the Mexican War on Drugs
When Laura, the central character in the new Mexican film “Miss Bala,” stumbles into the control of a drug gang, we are snared in a mounting sense of dread. It starts from the moment she curls her long body to hide in the bathroom of a low-rent Tijuana disco as gunmen steal in to storm the dance hall, and grows in the sideways glance of the cop she goes to for help.

It is in the face of a quaking soldier waiting for the gang to attack and in Laura’s mute terror as the drug boss tapes packets of cash to her waist.

The film’s foreboding is a reflection of the national mood as Mexico enters the sixth year of the government’s frontal assault on drug traffickers. Estimates put the death toll around 50,000 since 2006, and the murders pile up relentlessly.

What feeds despair here more than the daily violence, though, is the suspicion that nobody in charge has the ability, the will or the integrity to defeat the criminals and the corruption that supports them. The anxiety that anyone can become a victim guides “Miss Bala.”

“There is no escape,” said Gerardo Naranjo, 40, the film’s director and co-writer, who wanted to make a film not about the narcos but about their victims. “She is a beautiful young woman in the north, where there is no law. What are the possibilities of her getting out? None.”

Battered and limp, Laura (Stephanie Sigman) simply endures. “Our society is acting like that,” Mr. Naranjo continued. “People are passive. We don’t know how to react to violence.”

“Miss Bala,” inspired by the arrest three years ago of a Mexican beauty queen with her drug-dealer boyfriend (she was later released), was screened at the Cannes, Toronto and New York film festivals. It is Mexico’s submission for the foreign-language Academy Award and opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday.

The film has performed moderately well at the box office here, and commentators have been enthusiastic. “At a moment when blood drips from the newspapers, ‘Miss Bala’ concerns itself with something unexplored: the secret life of panic, the way that crime invades the everyday and mentally corrodes people who are outside its actions,” the novelist and essayist Juan Villoro wrote.

National trauma often spurs the home cinema to probe the wounds. Think of the films from the countries of the former Yugoslavia. But so far most Mexican filmmakers seem reluctant to deal directly with the drug war. Besides fear of a violent reaction from the cartels, one reason may be that the first movie about this Mexican tragedy — Luis Estrada’s “El Infierno,” released in 2010 — was so unflinching in its gaze that younger directors may be wary of approaching the same subject matter to avoid comparison, said Rafael Aviña, a film critic and screenwriter.

But he added that these directors were translating the fear and paranoia that the drug war was generating into other genres, like horror movies and science fiction, using them as metaphors for the current situation.

An acid satire, “El Infierno” (“Hell” in English), was a critical and box-office hit and featured one of the most memorable screen narcos in years, El Cochiloco (Joaquín Cosío), a barrel-chested psychopath with a raucous sense of humor and an unshakable loyalty to his childhood friend, Benny García (Damián Alcázar). Benny returns to his desolate hometown after 20 years in the United States to find it in the grip of a murderous drug boss, falling in with El Cochiloco and his gang of hitmen.

Mr. Estrada transforms the gore into humor, but he abruptly shifts the tone in torture scenes to make his audience squirm. And the ending, in which Benny’s nephew takes revenge, is Mr. Estrada’s bleak warning. “The past generation saw corruption and impunity as normal,” Mr. Estrada said. “Now there is a generation that sees violence as normal.”

Narco films in Mexico have been around since the 1970s, with filmmakers churning out dozens of formulaic versions. Pirated copies of the old movies sell in markets here, along with gruesome newer versions pumped out for home video.

Mr. Estrada, 49, turned the conventions of the old films on their head, but younger directors, Mr. Aviña said, may be wary of a genre associated with such low-end moviemaking. Conservative television networks in Mexico have mostly avoided the subject. But there is an appetite: “La Reina del Sur” (“The Queen of the South”), based on a novel by the Spanish writer Arturo Pérez-Reverte, is a joint American, Spanish and Colombian production (although much of its creative team is Mexican) that was a success here. With the melodrama of conventional telenovelas, it tracks a Mexican woman’s rise as a drug boss in Spain.

A few documentary filmmakers have begun to treat the topic obliquely. Natalia Almada spent a year in the Jardines del Humaya cemetery in Culiacán, in the heart of Mexican drug country, where the families of slain traffickers erect air-conditioned mausoleums to their fallen men.

Her resulting film, “El Velador” (“The Night Watchman”), is a meditation on what the violence has wrought without showing any of it. Loosely centered around Martín, the cemetery’s night watchman, the film unfolds fuguelike as the days repeat themselves, the camera lingering on the cracked shoes of a construction worker mixing concrete and a snack vendor peeling a mango for a little girl at a funeral.

“I always felt that there was this absurdity, this futility to the whole place,” Ms. Almada said. “That’s very much what we’re living through, this violence where you think it can’t get worse and it gets worse; it can’t get more grotesque, and it gets more grotesque.” (“El Velador” will be broadcast this year on the PBS series “POV.”)

In “Reportero” Bernardo Ruiz, a Mexican-born New York documentary filmmaker, follows the work of a reporter for Zeta, a Tijuana-based weekly that boldly covers the drug war. “It is about the constant threat of violence when you step outside of certain unspoken agreements,” he said.

Even though “Miss Bala” (bala means bullet) is fictional, Mr. Naranjo took documentary like care with his research, meeting with drug dealers inside and outside jail. “I really wanted to know how they communicated, how they dressed, how they talked, how they drove,” he said.

“It’s such a pathetic world,” he said. “It’s full of ignorance, paranoia.”

The drug boss Lino (Noé Hernández) is an uncommon movie narco. There is no bluster, only quiet cruelty and duplicity.

Laura is his pawn. Viewers are confused and uneasy because they see and hear only the fragments that Laura does — the same disjointed way they receive their news of the drug war.

“We didn’t want you to see the evil,” Mr. Naranjo said. “We wanted you to imagine it, because in the Mexican psyche the bad things are already in our hard drive.”


  1. I have to say, El Infierno was a good low budget movie.

  2. I'd love to see some good movies made on the subject, I am trying to write a short story now, but it seems like Hollywood will forever cheapen the source material with unrealistic, uninspired portrayals of traffickers. 'Traffic' and 'Miami Vice' are two notable exceptions.

    These films budgets and acting probably greatly restrict them, but I will admit to having seen none of them, but I saw some of the low budget 'Muletas' movie floating around TJ years ago, awful stuff.

    Imagine a big budget, but not a blockbuster, CDG/Zeta's, sort of like a 'Last of The Mohicans' 'Titanic', not like a disaster movie, but a love story/love triangle framed by death and destruction, and turbulent times.

    The short story I am working on is about the day to day stress/life of a leader of a tco, and his relationships with people.

    I would have also loved to see a faithful, and dignified version of 'The Queen of the South', but I doubt that will happen.

  3. J didn't the Muletas film was paid by El Muletas?

    I think I seen a little portion of the film.

  4. There is nothing Romantic,Inlightning,Interesting or Glamerious about Criminal Life,the reality is it truly sucks,in the end is NOT Profitable. Criminals are99.8% Stupid lazy weak cowardly people who choose to take what appears to them to be a easy way to make money. These people are encouraged by liberals who never cease to make excuses for the conduct and are obcessed with rehabilitating them. Well Go Figure??

  5. @ January 16, 2012 1:21 PM .Brother,you talkin shit,there is nothing easy about it.You are buying into the TV version.Did you ever stop to think that some of us would like to have a real job?But not everyone got the chance.Some of us come from shitty areas,with shitty schools,with no jobs,nothing.Then you start to grow up in it,selling is your job.Can you believe that?You have a normal job?Well imagine having to worry about the police all the time,prison,jealous fuckers snitching,someone trying to have you off,house getting burgled for shit,getting pulled by police every-time you in a car,strip searched all the time?The stress is a fucker,yes i would have loved to have a real job.So brother don't believe the shit you see on TV.And not everyone is hurting people for nothing,you,in your safe job,your laughing.Its not hard?Shows how naive you are,its a pain in the ass,but i,m not going to get a job in an office am i?Job opportunities?What is that?

  6. January 16, 2012 1:21 PM The message on the movie El Infierno was clear, you get involved on drug dealing you will die. It was not romanticizing or glamorizing anyone.

  7. There are jobs dont need school for a sites is a good example...theyre just lazy

  8. El Infierno is awesome.
    El Gordo Mata for President!


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