Naranjo: Expands borders with Mexican drug-war tale

10 Directors to Watch 2012: Gerardo Naranjo

Age: 40
Homebase: Brooklyn
Inspired by: “I love when filmmakers achieve abstraction and poetry while still making film about the world,” he says, citing Luis Bunuel, Robert Bresson and Russian director Elem Klimov’s “Come and See.”
Reps: Agents, Scott Greenberg and Jay Baker (CAA); Lawyer, Carlos Goodman

Naranjo’s “Miss Bala,” which premiered in Cannes and went on to become Mexico’s submission for the foreign-language Oscar, brilliantly straddles the art/commerce divide. “I feel like it’s where I want my movies to navigate — the best of both worlds,” continues Naranjo.

In its story of a Mexican beauty pageant contestant caught in a vast web of corruption, “Miss Bala” has the trappings of a genre thriller.

But Naranjo, a cinephile who studied at the American Film Institute and cites filmmakers from Jean-Luc Godard to Andrzej Zulawski as inspiration, has made an “anthropological” study of Mexico’s culture of violence that is anything but conventional.

Of Naranjo’s three previous features, each is as different and distinctively personal as the next: “Malachance,” an improvisational New Orleans-set indie; “Drama/Mex,” a tale of interwoven dramas in Acapulco; and “I’m Going to Explode,” a stylish lovers-on-the-lam tragedy.

Though made on a tight budget, “Miss Bala” is Naranjo’s biggest and boldest production to date. Directing the film’s elaborately choreographed single-take action sequences required the “biggest preparations I had done in my entire life,” he acknowledges.

“But I’m not ready to be an action director. I would love to make a film like ‘Mad Max,’ but I would also like to have the emotion in there.”

“What’s unique about Gerardo is that he’s not trying to emulate anyone, he’s his own true filmmaker,” says Sanford Panitch, president of Fox Intl. Productions, which came aboard “Miss Bala” and will also back Naranjo’s upcoming project, a multi-language heist film set on an oil rig.

“In heist films, they usually steal money, not a liquid,” quips Naranjo, who is also adapting a book, an international thriller that deals with the FBI, the CIA and a dictatorship. In both cases, the director feels ready to branch out from the local industry and become a more international filmmaker.

“I don’t consider myself just a Mexican,” he says. “I don’t feel this idea of boundaries or borders, and I would like to make movies that have that same feeling.”

10 Directors to Watch
Zal Batmanglij |

Valerie Donzelli | Gareth Evans | Philippe Falardeau | Mike ‘Mouse’ McCoy & Scott Waugh | Gerardo Naranjo | Matt Piedmont | Michael R. Roskam | Lynn Shelton | Benh Zeitlin

More Film

  • Oliver-Berben-and-Uli-Edel

    Constantin TV, ZDF, Global Screen, Team on 'The Palace' (EXCLUSIVE)

    BERLIN — Constantin Film, the No. 1 German independent behind the “Resident Evil” franchise, is teaming with German public broadcaster ZDF to produce “The Palace,” (“Friedrichstadt-Palast”) a period drama set at the celebrated Berlin music hall. Global Screen will handle international distribution. “Last Exit to Brooklyn’s” Uli Edel will re-team with Constantin Television, directing the [...]

  • Berlin: Embankment Rides With Frankie Dettori

    Berlin: Embankment Rides With Frankie Dettori Documentary 'Frankie'

    Embankment has launched worldwide sales at the European Film Market on feature documentary “Frankie,” the story of champion jockey Frankie Dettori, winner of more than 3,000 races. The film shadows Dettori for one season as, at 49, he looks to win a record third Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe on Enable, his most beloved horse. [...]

  • Pathé Inks Major Pre-Sales on Emilia

    Pathé Inks Major Pre-Sales on Emilia Jones Starrer 'Coda' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Pathé has closed major pre-sales on Sian Heder’s anticipated film “Coda,” starring Emilia Jones, Eugenio Derbez and Marlee Matlin, after unveiling an exclusive promo reel of the film at EFM. An English-language remake of the French smash hit “La Famille Belier,” “Coda” is being produced by Philippe Rousselet and Fabrice Gianfermi at Vendôme Group, alongside [...]

  • Greenwich Takes U.S. Rights to Caroline

    Greenwich Takes U.S. Rights to Oscar-Winner Caroline Link's 'When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit'

    Beta Cinema has sold the German box-office hit “When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit” by Oscar-winner Caroline Link to the U.S. Greenwich Entertainment picked up the rights to the feature, which has attracted almost one million admissions since its Christmas release in Germany alone. German media lauded the film, calling it “a real godsend for the [...]

  • 'H Is for Happiness' Review

    'H Is for Happiness': Film Review

    More often than not, “A” festival competitions privilege the arty over the entertaining, so hats off to the Berlinale Generation section, where the two qualities frequently coexist. A case in point: the delightful coming-of-age dramedy “H Is for Happiness,” which provides feel-good entertainment for the entire family without pandering — and definitely without sacrificing style [...]

  • 'Jinpa' Review

    ‘Jinpa’: Film Review

    After roaming for more than a year on the international festival circuit, “Jinpa” — the latest effort from Tibetan director Pema Tseden (“Old Dog,” “Tharlo”) — has finally launched a limited run in U.S. art houses, where it might find an appreciative if occasionally perplexed audience for its idiosyncratic mix of deadpan wit and understated [...]

  • Clarisse-Goulart

    Projeto Paradiso Fights for Brazilian Film Industry

    BERLIN — Having slowed incentives to a near halt this year, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro’s government looks set to decimate film funding in 2020. Brazil’s industry is bracing – and fighting back. On Sunday, at Berlin, Projeto Paradiso, a philanthropic organization, announced a Sao Paulo Forum, New Business Models for a New Audiovisual Era, and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content