Gerardo Naranjo‘s Miss Bala (Fox Int’l, 10.14) seemed unbowed and undiminished during my second viewing last night at Avery Fisher Hall. It’s a very rare art film that delivers edge-of-your-seat popcorn thrills, but Bala does that and then some. All fans of grade-A action thrillers and/or the classic film language of Michelangelo Antonioni are required to see this Mexican-made masterwork as soon as possible.

It’s easily on my personal ten-best list of 2011, and is certainly the best Mexican-beauty-queen-coerced-into-becoming-a-criminal-accessory-by-drug-gangsters movie ever made. It’s a flat-out triumph, and 23 or 24-year-old Stephanie Sigman, whose resume wasn’t very long or storied before she nabbed the lead role, is a natural soul actress and beautiful to boot. She delivers a thoroughly emotional, seriously immersive “wow” performance, and is therefore a major discovery waiting to have her career ruined by Hollywood producers coming along and putting her in a series of shitty movies.

Miss Bala, Mexico’s official sumission for 2011’s Best Foreign language Feature Oscar, and Asghar Farhadi‘s A Separation, Iran’s official pick, are the finest foreign language films I’ve seen this year.

The Academy’s Foreign Language committee is notorious for making stupid calls. And there’s a fear that as the year’s best foreign-language entries are considered, the not-smart-enough contingent might say “no, Miss Bala is too much of a genre piece, too action-y.” If this happens, they’ll have to be swatted down and put in their place and overruled by people who know better.

Miss Bala star Stephanie Sigman
duringlast night’s after-party at Hotel Americano.

Miss Bala director-cowriter Gerardo Naranjo

Repeating my 1st Toronto Film Festival declaration: “If Michelangelo Antonioni had made a movie about a Mexican beauty queen grappling with drug gangsters, the result might have been Miss Bala.”

Repeating another: “Naranjo has totally ignored the chaotic action aesthetic of Michael Bay & his acolytes, and delivered an action thriller with a truly elegant visual style. Long shots and no cut-cut-cut-cuting. He knows how to handle action and danger in a much, much more involving fashion that 90% of the bullshit scattershot action directors out there. Those guys know nothing, and Naranjo, I feel, is a master.”

“Bala,” once again, is the Mexican term for bullet. American audiences will never figure this by watching the film as it’s never explained.

Miss Bala will open on 10.14 in select major markets through Fox International and the marketing efforts of David Dinerstein.

Gerardo Naranjo, Stephanie Sigman during last night Miss Bala q & a at Avery Fisher Hall, moderated by NYFF co-director Scott Foundas.