The women of Miss Bala and Martha Marcy May Marlene are beautiful, but unlike in films like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, their traumas never provide voyeuristic thrills.
20th Century Fox / Sony Pictures Classics
This post contains spoilers about Miss Bala and Martha Marcy May Marlene
The camera zooms in on the contours of her pillowy lips and dewy skin long enough for us to count the pores on her nose. We follow her through trauma after trauma, beatings and rape, and watch helplessly as she is used as a pawn for the pleasure of the men who exploit her youth and beauty. Her searing sexiness makes her more vulnerable, but also prevents her from getting killed. By the end of the film, she has no place in society, dejected and beleaguered by the forces that she once thought could save her. The camera lingers on her for a long, final shot, and then ends abruptly, in what seems like the middle of a scene.
This description fits two of the most critically acclaimed films of the past year, Miss Bala and Martha Marcy May Marlene. Miss Bala, which opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday and was directed by Gerardo Naranjo (Gonna Explode, Drama/Mex), is based on the true story of a Mexican beauty queen who, after witnessing a shoot out at a nightclub, gets kidnapped by a Tijuana drug cartel. The film depicts the endemic corruption that touches every level of Mexican society, from traffic cops to pageant judges to high-ranking military officers. Actress Stephanie Sigman plays Lau with steely reserve and almost affectless fear, making her captivity terrifying to watch. As the film concludes, a bruised, battered, and humiliated Lau walks aimlessly into the distance.