Mala Noche

78 minutes 2013

For people like me who often feel oppressed by minority-film categories such as "gay films," "black films," "Jewish films" and so on, calling this really well-done, low-budget, personal effort—directed and adapted by Gus Van Sant from a Walt Curtis novel, and shot in Portland, Oregon—a gay film isn't very helpful. Far better to say that the film's working-class hero (extremely well played by Tim Streeter), who works as a grocery-store clerk in Portland's skid row, happens to be gay, has an unrequited crush on an illegal Mexican immigrant named Juancito (Doug Cooeyate), and ultimately has a brief affair with Juancito's friend, another illegal alien. Strikingly shot in high-contrast black and white, with offscreen narration and postsynchronized dialogue, the film suffers in spots from its austere budget; the short-take editing style is persuasively handled, but gets a mite monotonous in spots. Still, this 1985 film's absolute freedom from cliches is genuinely refreshing; looking at it again after Van Sant's subsequent Drugstore Cowboy, I found it every bit as good and in some ways even more impressive than the later film. It shouldn't be missed. With Ray Monge.

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