Made for $25,000, the debut film from Gus Van Sant, MALA NOCHE, tells the story of Walt, a convenience store worker at the bad end of town. Walt likes the Mexican boys, and meets Johnny, a sexy illegal migrant who speaks no English. Walt harbours not only sexual but romantic feelings for Johnny, but the immigrant distances himself from Walt's lustful advances. Dejected, Walt initiates a mutually beneficial relationship with Johnny's friend Roberto, swapping money for sex, while secretly longing for Johnny. As Walt tries to go about his daily activities, he finds himself drawn into the crime-filled lives of the Mexican boys.
The first thing that strikes you about Mala Noche is the raw, beautiful cinematography--a high-contrast black-and-white that captures the gutters of Portland, OR, like the setting of a long-lost film noir. Next, you'll be struck that the narrator, a convenience clerk named Walt (Tim Streeter), rhapsodizes about his love for a young Mexican hustler named Johnny (Doug Cooeyate) without guilt or fear--perhaps reflecting the rare occasion of a movie by an openly gay filmmaker (Gus Van Sant, making his feature film debut) based on an openly gay autobiographical story (by Portland poet Walt Curtis). Though the movie doesn't have much of a plot--basically, Walt alternately tries to woo Johnny and his friend Roberto Pepper (Ray Monge), gaining little more than a suspicious, combative friendship and some fervid but isolated sex--but the rough but engaging flavor of the storytelling gives the movie momentum and a rich charm... --Bret Fetzer
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