Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: In the Land of Blood and Honey vs. Miss Bala, two movies set in wars past or ongoing, with women being tested well beyond their means.
Premise In the Land of Blood and Honey, Angelina Jolie’s directorial debut, follows the story of two new lovers, Danijel (Goran KostiÄ?) and Ajla (Zana MarjanoviÄ?), whose relationship is torn apart by the Bosnian War. Eventually, fate brings the two together again at a Serbian rape camp where Danijel is a Serbian soldier and Ajla a captured Bosnian. Quickly, the conflict and its violent stabs at ethnic domination, in the bedroom and the outside world, disintegrate the couple’s chances for love. Miss Bala, meanwhile, comes from two Mexican movie heavyweights: Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna (both of Y Tu Mamá También). It tells the story of a wannabe pageant queen from Tijuana, Laura Guerrero (Stephanie Sigman), who gets dragged into the world of drug trafficking after a chance encounter at a club leaves everyone dead but her. “Miss Bala,” or Miss Bullet in Spanish, proceeds to fulfill her duties, smuggling drugs around her waist, in the hopes of realizing her dreams. In fact, the film is inspired by the true story of Laura Zúñiga, the Mexican pageant queen who was arrested in December 2008 along with suspected gang members in a truck filled with guns, ammo and $53,000. Honestly, both films look promisingly honest, but Miss Bala‘s story about the ongoing drug war has more novelty and urgency. Advantage: Miss Bala Tortured Heroines No doubt, In the Land of Blood and Honey‘s Ajla and Miss Bala‘s Laura suffer—a lot. In living through a war, Ajla faces near-death situations at the hands of enemy troops and—judging by her her tied-up hands, is raped, too. Psychologically, she faces not only the trauma of physical abuse, but also the stress of facing an unraveling relationship with a man who could hold her fate in his hands. In the few head-on shots of Ajla that the trailer lets on, we see a complex character: fearful, damaged, but ultimately strong. In Miss Bala, Laura is also heavily tried in the bullet-ridden underworld and suffers the consequences physically and emotionally. By trailer’s end, tears streaming down her face, our protagonist looks less than happy living her dream. Looks to us like each actress is believable in her turns as a woman trapped in a devastating war. We can’t choose between the two. Advantage: Tie
Violence Both films offer viewers violence, violence, and more violence. (They are about wars, aren’t they?) With In the Land of Blood and Honey, we can expect to see automated warfare, rape, Molotov cocktails, mass murders, and perhaps even the deaths of civilian women and children. In Miss Bala, the trailer lets on heavy gunfire, mass civilian murders, explosions, and, outside of the scenes on heavily-lit stages, danger at every turn. Though we can’t say there is an ultimate objective scale of suffering, it seems to us that Ajla faces a greater danger. It’s not just that she could lose her life or her freedom, forever. The unremitting abuse of being a victim of war stands to take her soul too. Advantage: In the Land of Blood and Honey
Historic Truth In the Land of Blood and Honey is set in the infamous Bosnian war of the ’90s, but outside the characters, the plot is anything but fictional. The ethnic cleansing, rape camps, and drunken sniper posts are all true to life. Some of the actors are even survivors of the war, and the film is being released in two versions, one in English, the other in Serbo-Croat. Miss Bala, too, is loosely based on a non-fictional source, and appears to stick to a non-glorified take on the corruption and crippling and debilitating effects of a cyclical drug war. Laura reaches the pageant stage and wins her crown but pays the price in a dangerous underworld that forces her through shootouts, apparently cross-national smuggling, and ultimately brutally tolling scenarios. Seriously, we have to give credit to both films for sticking to real, non-melodramatic themes. Advantage: Tie Writer/Directors This is an exciting match-up, as both films’ directors wrote or co-wrote their films and have been gaining steady press in recent months. In the Land of Blood and Honey is Angelina Jolie’s directorial debut, and judging by the subject matter, we would commend any director for taking on such serious fare for their first feature. Still, Jolie has faced her fair share of controversy, from a plagiarism lawsuit to the Bosnian government canceling her filming permit. When rumors abounded that the film portrayed a Bosnian rape victim falling in love with her Serb rapist and captor, that Association of Women Victims of War protested and Jolie had to stop shooting until she presented the script to the country’s cultural ministry. It was quickly approved. Not that we didn’t know this before, but yes: Angelina Jolie has serious balls. So too does Miss Bala‘s director Gerardo Naranjo. Not only did Naranjo take on an equally difficult subject and the task of painting his country in a negative light, a feat we’re sure he got some flack for—it seems he has produced an accomplished end product. In fact, Miss Bala had such a good run on the festival circuit this year—it gained entry into the 2011 Cannes, New York, and Toronto Film Festivals—that in September, it was named Mexico’s foreign-language Oscar submission for this awards season. Points go to Naranjo for that one. Advantage: Miss Bala
Verdict How can you pick between two movies going for historic realism and engaging in serious and immediate subjects? No doubt, our waffling in this face-off shows how tough that decision was. In the end, though, we have to give it to Miss Bala, for its style and sense of purpose. Winner: Miss Bala
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