Tuesday, March 12, 2019

SXSW with Abe: La Mala Noche

I’m excited to be attending the film festival at South by Southwest for the second time, and I’ll be posting reviews throughout the week as I see as many movies as possible!

La Mala Noche
Directed by Gabriela Calvache

There are many cinematic stories of women (and men) who, at one point in their lives, must turn to prostitution as a means of making money. These films are not all alike, as some are presented in a comedic, light-hearted format with no implications and others offer far more serious consequences for their protagonists. La Mala Noche, which comes from Ecuador and made its world premiere this past weekend in the Global category at the South by Southwest Film Festival, melds both those approaches, starting from a seemingly harmless point and becoming gradually more serious as it proceeds.

Translated in English as The Longest Night, this film follows Dana (Nöelle Schönwald), a woman who has been forced to leave her sick daughter with her mother and make a living by having sex with clients before turning the majority of her earnings over to a mob boss. When she makes a mistake and receives a stern warning in the form of a relatively serious head injury from a henchman, Dana realizes that this is not the life for her, a decision made all the more poignant and urgent by her discovery of an eight-year-old girl being trafficked. Determined to change this girl’s fate, Dana plots an escape route for both of them, one that isn’t likely to end with them getting away unscathed.

This film starts off at a more static moment in Dana’s life and work, honing in on her relationship with a kindly client, a doctor, who treats her well and in the way that would seem most idyllic given what it is that she does. That comparable civility is contradicted so immensely by the introduction of a child prostitute that this film shifts in tone along with it, underlining the severity and true harm that can be done by the continued abuse of this young girl. While it doesn’t approach the level of depravity and disturbing content found in films like "Cold in July" or "Nocturnal Animals," it’s definitely far from pleasant, saved only by the well-meaning energy of its main character.

La Mala Noche is actually a standard entry in terms of this kind of fare, following an expected narrative that finds her tethering herself to the one good client who could probably do more to help her yet only wants to rescue her and not her baggage. Colombian actress Schönwald infuses Dana with a very vulnerable strength, capable of channeling everything she has to muster a formidable moment or two before being susceptible to the violent reactions of those with fewer ethical sentiments holding them back. This isn’t a transcendent, genre-defying portrait of a woman whose life has never felt quite as real to audiences as Dana’s does, but it should rate well enough for those looking for a solid crime thriller with an above-average performance at its center. Its global reach and subsequent premiere at the Guadalajara International Film Festival assure that, at the very least, this foreign-language film should prove relatable and universal to anyone watching.


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