Viewer’s Discretion: ‘Bala Loca’ and ‘Nise: The Heart of Madness’

“Bala Loca” (Netflix)

It’s a lot easier to find series with serial killers as heroes than journalists, but Chilean import “Bala Loca” does a great job at trying to change that. Set against the backdrop of the aftermath of the Pinochet dictatorship — years ago, admittedly, but still weighing heavily on a society that needs to heal — there’s a healthy mix of political intrigue and personal drama here, all servicing a sophisticated examination of masculine overreach.

The story is centered on Mauro Murillo (Alejandro Goic), a famous journalist whose junked his career through trashy news and self-destruction and is now confined to a wheelchair. You witness his everyday indignities, including the casual ableism that he contends with and which is slowly bringing him back down to a human level where compassion may just consume him. After the murder of an old colleague, Murillo forms his own independent online news organization and becomes embroiled in the complicated business, political, and military structures behind the recovering country, revealing corruption both casual and diabolical.

Most of the men here, though, are train wrecks, and its left to the women of the new organization to do the hard work of investigating while the men work their nonsense out. This is juxtaposed with the sexual identity struggles of Murillo’s teenage son and the toxic masculine types who fuel military dictatorships and the cruelty they impose. It’s a re-examination of the role of masculinity to be sure, but it’s also a portrait of inherent imperfections, of the good that exists alongside the bad within a person.

A lot of other shows on Netflix get all the attention, but this one sits quietly waiting for some deserved love.

“Nise: The Heart of Madness” (Amazon, Apple, Google Play, Netflix, Vudu)

Brazilian psychiatrist Nise da Silveira isn’t well-known outside of her native country, but she should be. Her Jungian methods of art therapy were transformative in the lives of her patients, as well as the art world of Brazil. “Nise: The Heart of Madness” offers a mesmerizing portrait of the process of that transformation and the people affected by it the most.

Calling this a biopic doesn’t quite do it justice. Rather than focusing on the complete story of the doctor’s life, it begins with her refined clinical practice in a mental hospital, which puts her at odds with other psychiatrists who promote electroshock therapy and lobotomies and set her most important work in motion. Relegated to a dumpy clinic run by nurses, Nise begins to provide the most hopeless patients with creative activities, mapping the results and attempting to role model for the less progressive medical staff.

What makes “Nise” so successful is its warts and all presentation of life in the asylum and the challenging processes of indulging patients’ creative impulses. Nise’s efforts never presented as easy work, and the film pushes away any sentimentality that would sugarcoat how daring and progressive this effort was.

At the same time, it presents a very key truth to those who would see it. Bad things are always going to happen. Violence is always going to happen. People are always going to be harmed. But using further violence and enacting strict control does not prevent the bad from occurring. Dignity, kindness, these will not wipe away the ugliness entirely, but it will do marvels, and by choosing those as your method, you optimize the positive.

Nise stands as an inspiring figure, but no more than her actual patients, who the film truly celebrates.

Originally published at

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s