January 20, 2012 / 10:00 PM / 7 years ago

"Miss Bala" puts human face on Mexico's drug war

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - In a ripped-from-the-headlines story, the new movie “Miss Bala,” which opens in limited U.S. release on Friday, tells the harrowing tale of a small-town Mexican beauty named Laura who inadvertently becomes involved with a violent drug lord.

Actress Stephanie Sigman is shown in a scene from the film "Miss Bala' in this publicity photo released to Reuters January 20, 2012. In a ripped-from-the-headlines story, the new movie "Miss Bala," which opens in limited U.S. release on Friday, tells the harrowing tale of a small-town Mexican beauty named Laura who inadvertently becomes involved with a violent drug lord. REUTERS/Eniac Martinez Ulloa/Canana/Handout

Directed and co-written by Gerardo Naranjo and executive produced by Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal of “Y Tu Mama Tambien” fame, the film takes a cold, hard look at Mexico’s devastating drug war and its effect on the country and people.

Naranjo and Luna talked to Reuters about making the film and its message.

Q: Is it true that this film was inspired by a newspaper story you read?

Naranjo: “Yes, I saw this story about drugs and weapons smuggling and this beautiful young woman who was accused of working for a drug cartel. And then we started researching about how you can smuggle guns from the U.S. to Mexico so easily. No one will search your car coming that way.”

Luna: “And when we shot the scene where Laura drives across the border with all this money hidden under her dress, we had a camera and shot with no permits or anything, and nobody stopped her. That tells you everything. You don’t even have to hide the weapons in the trunk. When you cross into Mexico, it’s no problem.”

Naranjo: “Going the other way, into the U.S., you just have to pay more money, but it’s still possible. Otherwise, how do all these drugs get across the border?”

Q: This was Stephanie Sigman’s (Laura) first starring role. Were you nervous about casting a newcomer in the lead role?

Naranjo: “No, as I felt she had this inner strength that was right for the role. She has a lot of dignity, even when she’s abused. Some people have told me she’s too passive — why doesn’t she just grab a gun and shoot them? But that’s just ridiculous. I think movies have mis-educated us about violence. We think we can fight back against gangs and criminals in these situations, but you can’t. It’s not realistic, and I wanted to make a realistic film about a real problem.

Q: That begs the question, what sort of film did you set out to make? Simply a crime thriller, or was there something more? As you say, it’s a real problem.

Naranjo: “At the start I wanted to show it all — the terrible violence, the beheadings, the dismemberments, all the inhumanity (of the drug wars). But then I realized that was just too much. If I’d shown you all the dead bodies and all the drugs, it’d be just like any other movie.”

Luna: “So we never show you any actual drugs. But you understand what’s going on, and Gerardo gives you enough information for you to create a whole world in your head and live through the struggles Laura goes through.”

Q: Were you worried that a film dealing with such serious issues could easily end up being preachy?

Naranjo: “Of course, and I didn’t want that, so that’s why I cut down the dialogue to a minimum. When a robber’s robbing a bank, he’s not explaining what he’s doing. He just does it. So we didn’t want to over-explain things. We just wanted to show the problems and the criminal activity without being tempted to draw conclusions about it. I don’t know the answers, and we didn’t want to say, these guys are the guilty ones, or the government is guilty. But I do know certain things, like if you’re caught in a shoot-out, you’re very afraid, and ordinary civilians are having their lives destroyed by these drug wars. In the last five years, it’s escalated and now the violence is everywhere.”

Q: Can you see any solution to the current situation?

Naranjo: “No, because it’s a buyer’s market for the drugs. If they make the border wall eight times bigger, they’ll still get the drugs in by planes or tunnels or by boat. You’ll never stop it while there’s the demand.”

Luna: “And there’s so much talk about corruption in Mexico, but it’s also huge here in the States — just on different levels. And the drug business is so huge now and so easy. It gives you all the economic chances your country doesn’t give you.”

Naranjo: “The big difference is we have very well-known criminals in Mexico, but once the drugs cross the border, it seems like they distribute themselves magically. They’re no famous drug dealers in the U.S.”

Reporting by Iain Blair, Editing by Bob Tourtellotte

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