La Mala Noche has been making the film festival rounds and already racking up some serious awards. Released by Cineática Films and Cine Caníbal, this powerful film by Gabriela Calvache will keep viewers engaged as the mystery of Dana unravels on the screen.
Written and directed by Calvache, stories and social divisions collide as Julian, played by Cristian Mercado, unwittingly gets pulled in to the world of Ecuadoran sex trafficking. The film begins with Julian’s point of view. Julian is a doctor who confesses he was not satisfied with his marriage, but is highly attracted to Dana, whom he is sexually attracted to but finds boring.
Julian juggles work, his family life, and his relationship with Dana unaware of the life she leads. We soon learn that it is not Julian’s story, but it is Dana’s. Dana, played by Noëlle Schönwald, is a woman who has been subjected to a life of sexual slavery, forced to prostitute herself for Nelson, a gangster who lives in a compound full of captive young girls. Dana must work to provide for her own daughter, while also providing Nelson with a hefty cut of her pay.
The film is visually appealing. Dana’s dresses and makeup are a stark burgundy color in a sea of greys and beiges. Dana easily stands out in the crowd and the color highlights ongoing blood imagery throughout the film. The blood is just as bold and matches Dana’s nail polish. The viewer can make the connection between Dana’s adornments to the price she has paid for her luxuries. Calvache creates some dynamic shots that show a disoriented Dana walking towards faceless men. This scene is created twice in the film and is really poetic given the subject matter. The men, whose faces are blurred, appear menacing as Dana walks by them completely alone.
Schönwald and Mercado give very strong performances. Schönwald, in particular, conveys self-loathing and fear expertly in the character of Dana. Calvache’s directing is exciting and stylish. The story itself is tragic and poignant as it works to bring awareness to the sex trade in Ecuador. The film has a film noir feel, placing Dana as the femme fatale with the deadly secrets and Julian as the man reluctantly drawn to her. Dana’s character is reminiscent of Dorothy Valens in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. Like Dorothy, Dana finds herself at the mercy of a man who holds her child’s fate in his hands. The directing style and elements of the story drive the film forward.
The film does have some pacing issues. There are times when the story feels a bit disjointed as we see Dana’s life mirror Julian’s or Lulu’s, a little girl taken in by Nelson. From a viewer’s perspective, the connection between Dana and Lulu makes complete sense. Dana’s resolution to take action, seem delayed given that she clearly has regrets about her own life.
La Mala Noche, gives a nuanced look to a character taken in by sexual enslavement. The film emphasizes the cruelty and trauma inflicted on sex trafficking victims, while showing the coldness of a business that is still taking a toll on children in Ecuador and many parts of the world.