Mala Noche 1986
1h 18min | Drama | 19 June 1987 (West Germany)
A story of amour fou. Walt is madly in love/lust with a young illegal Mexican immigrant. However, the object of his unrequited affection doesn’t even speak any English and finds Walt really strange and undesirable.
“Mala Noche” is a treatise on the foolishness of someone who thinks is in love with somebody. We’ve all been there, or at least most of us have all been there. The longings, the desire, the attraction and with those comes the most stupid, reckless and inconsequential acts and thoughts of trying to reach the desired person when one already knows nothing can happen between both because of reasons, as we say now. In this case, the main character Walt (Tim Streeter) falls desperately in love with a Mexican boy (Doug Cooeyate) and the whole film is a small journey into following the many dumb attempts of Johnny catching the boy’s attention and affection, often refused or played against him.
In a humdrum town where almost nothing ever happens, this 16 year-old kid coming into Walt’s store is a big event in his life, everything seems to change. He sees as a positive thing, we as audience don’t. He’s too absorbed and infatuated with this boy who doesn’t speak his language but understand his moves on him, to which he avoids time and time again, yet he’s always there to help him or help his friends – in one of those “lucky” days he manages to sleep with one of them. Nothing good comes from those acts yet he’s obstinate, headstrong is a more suitable adjective, definitely a pigheaded. That’s what life is all about. That’s what romantic novels, pop songs and so many films teaches us: never give up on the one you love. However, the limit established here is: there’s always a time to stop, move with your life and analyze better what you’re doing. One can’t find someone else to love and adore.
Crude, a little humorous though with a very imperceptible humor, sorely depressing, sad as a whole. “Mala Noche” (“Bad Night”) is less of a love story and more of a desperate run to find a true love but it all goes to show the embarrassing ways of getting to someone who’s only interested in taking advantage of this person. Tim is almost like Cabiria always waiting for the live of her life except he goes after this kid who pushes him away, change of subject, teases him a bit. He doesn’t realize he’s confusing love with lust.
It’s an excellent film debut for Gus Van Sant but also a strange one certainly. He doesn’t crave for our attention, he gets it quite easily by telling a very simple story in a simple way, engaging despite the whole melancholia, and on a non-hurried short time (70 minutes) and in a stylistically black-and-white, always uncertain and darker just like the characters hidden intentions, occulting the foreseeable sense of danger. It’s not all sadness, there’s some great erotic scenes, amazingly well-filmed despite its restrained conventions with the lack of color.
But here’s something: why would someone would like to expose that story to an audience of watchers and readers – this was based on an autobiographical novel by Walt Curtis – or let me say this better, why would someone would like to expose his tragedy for others to see? I say that both Sant and Curtis by sharing this with us are following D.H.Lawrence or Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s school of thought: to use art to say this is what will happen if you follow into this direction. They reprehend and advise without doing so, a warning sign that isn’t preachy or too moral like the classical literatures and the “Hays Code movies”, that’s why I like those works. That’s the primal and ultimate purpose and value, no more and no less. It isn’t the jolliest of the experiences but it’s a powerful and effective artistic expression. And of course, it’s Independent Cinema at its greatest, being real, humane, convincing and authorial. 10/10
Director: Gus Van Sant
Writers: Walt Curtis (story), Gus Van Sant (screenplay)
Stars: Tim Streeter, Doug Cooeyate, Ray Monge