Review: Mala Noche (1986)

mala noche

Young love, or is that infatuation, is always troublesome!

Screenplay By: Gus Van Sant
Directed By: Gus Van Sant

Hidden in the repetition of Mala Noche is a decent film. It takes a lot of work to dig out that film, but it’s worth the effort. I guess the shortcomings of Mala Noche should be expected. This is the first feature length effort from Gus Van Sant, a director who loves to feel out his scenes. I usually love Mr. Van Sant’s approach, but he also usually has a lot more to say than he did in Mala Noche. His base story of forlorn drifter infatuation peters out after about a half an hour and then the film keeps cycling through the same ideas over and over again. Repetitious though it may be the final forty five minutes of Mala Noche do feature moments of interesting beauty. Those moments aren’t enough to bump Mala Noche up to great status but it does make for an engaging film going experience.

I would hesitate to call Mala Noche a love story, but I wouldn’t yell wrong at anyone who does think it’s a love story. I didn’t view love as actually existing in Mr. Van Sant’s film. Rather, infatuation is present alongside longing. Walt doesn’t love Johnny or Roberto, but he sure as hell is infatuated with them. Walt is trying to force them to fit into his vision of love, and they don’t want that. As the film progresses Walt’s passive aggressive approach yields fewer and fewer results and that’s when the reality of his infatuation sinks in. When he ends the film by driving away from Johnny I think it’s quite clear that even he has realized what’s he’s feeling isn’t love but a desire to possess someone, if only for a moment.

Mala Noche has a unique visual style, a sort of drive-by style. None of the visuals ever feel like they are attached to the screen, they are more like moments in time that the viewer is driving by on their way to something else. This does lead to a uniqueness to the visuals, but I’m not sure if it leads to visuals that look all that great. The lack of clarity in the visuals in Mala Noche was a problem for me because I felt it kept me at an unhealthy distance from the characters.

Mr. Van Sant’s film is only an hour and seventeen minutes, but it still sticks around for too long. Mala Noche is an interesting film with a few interesting ideas, but not enough to fill up more than a half an hour. Being an early effort from Mr. Van Sant there’s a decided lack of visual rumination and that makes all the padding out of the film that much more obvious. Mala Noche is a decent freshman feature effort from Mr. Van Sant, but far greater things were in his future. In the grand scheme of Mr. Van Sant’s career Mala Noche is like a brief glimpse into the mind of a director who still isn’t sure how he wants to better explore the ideas rolling around in his brain.




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