Mala Noche

Director: Gus Van Sant
Screenwriters: Walt Curtis, Gus Van Sant

Institute History

  • 2006 Sundance Film Festival


Gus Van Sant's first fieature, shot on grainy, black-and-white 16 mm on an unassuming budget of $25,000, reflects themes developed in his later work: a focus on outsiders living on the fringes of society, romantic loners searching for the relationship that will make them whole and happy.

Based on Walt Curtis's autobiographical novella, Mala Noche tells the story of Walt (Tim Streeter), a thirtyish manager of a convenience store on Portland's grubby skid row, who falls madly in love with Johnny (Doug Cooeyate), an illegal teenage Mexican immigrant. Although Johnny happily takes advantage of Walt's generosity, he steadfastly rejects a sexual relationship. Eventually the obsessed Walt has to settle for Johnny's less desirable, but more willing, friend Pepper (Ray Monge), although, amiably undeterred, he continues to pursue Johnny.

Mala Noche's gritty images, caught-on-the-fly sound, and cast of local actors give the film a documentary-like realism that's undercut by Van Sant's expressive use of odd-angle shots, tight close-ups, and time-lapse photography. These and the inventive editing transform the film into resonant street poetry.

Although Mala Noche won the Los Angeles Film Critics Award for best independent film, it has essentially dropped out of sight; there is no print or video available. Van Sant has recently transferred the film to HD and reworked the soundtrack, so we are pleased to be able to present this important film from a true American independent to audiences again.

— Barbara Bannon

Screening Details

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