Perfect cast and a good story
The best films of this genre always show a path and provide a takeaway for being a better person.
The film's masterful storytelling did its job. The message was clear. No need to overdo.
MALA NOCHE is a low budget, grainy black and white film from 1986 by the estimable director Gus Van Sant and has been considered important enough to include in The Criterion Collection. While it is based on a true story by Portland writer Walt Curtis, Van Sant is responsible for the screen play as well as the direction and editing of this little film. It may not be a polished gem, but it has many of the ingredients and honesty that have subsequently made Gus Van Sant one of our more important film director (Drugstore Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho, Finding Forrester, Milk, To Die For, Good Will Hunting, etc). It deserves its placement in the Criterion Collection. The scenario is simple: Walt (Tim Streeter) is a convenience store worker who becomes infatuated with illegal immigrant Johnny (Doug Cooeyate) and his friend Pepper (Ray Monge) who have just arrived by rail in Portland. The setting is sensual and Walt manages to satisfy his desires with the emotionally needy and impecunious Johnny. It is a fit for them both, though Walt seeks to make the relationship go deeper than the superficial physical encounters. It is a push pull situation and the beauty of the film is the manner in which Van Sant manages to allow us to see both sides of the story. John J. Campbell provides the steamy, crackling photography and Creighton Lindsay heightens the mood with his musical score. It is early Van Sant but it is a solid little start. Grady Harp
During the twenty three years between "Mala Noche" and "Milk," Gus Van Sant made two other films that were quite above average; namely,"My Own Private Idaho" and "Good Will Hunting." His early effort, "Mala Noche," seems to play like a prequel to "Idaho," or at least an exercise piece, preparing for the main event. Both are set in Portland in the seedier side of town and both deal with assorted transients and street hustlers. "Idaho," however, has a rough Shakespearian basis, giving it more structural depth, while "Noche" drifts from one episode to the next without strong dramatic motivation.Still, "Noche" is rich in black and white imagery, mood, and atmosphere. It's more of an artwork than other Van Sant films, and maintains its artistry throughout (still, the running time seemed to me much longer than 78 minutes).The cast is serviceable without being outstanding, and the production design is thoughtful. The DVD release of the film offers a lengthy interview by the director, which provides interesting information for admirers of Van Sant.
Mala Noche is kind of "a month in the life of" Walt, played by Tim Streeter, who is fawning over Johnny, (Doug Cooeyate) a Mexican who hangs around Walt's store. It's touching, sad, and frustrating to watch as Walt keeps throwing himself at Johnny, and is constantly rebuffed. Walt, who is the caregiver to just about everyone he meets, spouts life philosophy and seems to enjoy the thrill of the chase in the gritty side of town. At the same time, it's refreshing to see a film from 20 years ago treat gay characters and relationships with respect, and to give them "normal" lines without resorting to stereotypes. Oddly, Ray Monge, who plays Roberto, a friend of Johnny, is the only one has has had more than one or two roles listed in their career, and he has just four roles listed. Some neat little touches, like the bottle on a string that pulls the door closed like a spring, Walt greeting everyone on the street, and the driving lesson gone wrong. Interesting interview with van Sant on the DVD from janus/Criterion, where he explains how it was made from Curtis' story. A little offbeat and rough, but fun to watch.
'Mala Noche': is it just me, or do these words sound beautiful together? As a native Portuguese speaker (English is my second language), it's funny for me to realize that those beautiful-sounding words mean, plainly, "bad night". I guess Gus Van Sant also thought they sounded much nicer in Spanish, and didn't call his debut film "Bad Night"."Mala Noche" is based on an autobiographical novel by Walt Curtis (played by Tim Streeter), the young manager of a liquor store who falls in love with a Mexican lad (Doug Cooyeate), an illegal immigrant who doesn't speak English. Shot in black-and-white 16MM for only $25,000, the film lacks the wholesomeness of Van Sant's following movies, more notably his masterpiece, "My Own Private Idaho" (1991). The acting varies from mediocre (Streeter) to plain bad (Cooyeate and most of the supporting cast), but in spite of the below par actors and the extremely low budget, Van Sant managed to create some beautiful scenes, already demonstrating his raw sense of street-life poetry. Creighton Lindsay is responsible for a sensitive music score. In spite of its flaws, "Mala Noche" deserves to be seen by those who admire the work of one of the most influential and daring American indie filmmakers. 8/10.