La Mala Noche is a film from Ecuador rapidly gaining critical attention on the film festival circuit. Gabriela Calvache writes and directs La Mala Noche and shines a glaring spotlight on sexual enslavement in South America. Released by Cineatica Films and Cine Canibal, Calvache’s film takes a bold look at the perpetrators and victims of the sex trade, while emphasizing the humanity and situations that hold women hostage. Strong writing and innovative directing shed multiple perspectives on this serious and ongoing issue.
AIPT: La Mala Noche takes place in Ecuador. How did the location influence the subject matter?
Calvache: Ecuador is a developing country, and this fact makes it so that a significant percentage of the population is living under ideal economic conditions. The majority of the population is also composed by young people. According to the 2018 census of rural areas, administered by the Institute of Statistics and Census of Ecuador, 40% of people are poor, mostly children and women. If we add to this situation of inequality the different types of violence that may exist, we have a breeding ground for mafias to pick up vulnerable people. But there is also another factor in that Ecuador is a neighbor of Colombia, a country that has been facing an armed conflict for almost 60 years and that has generated significant exploitation and trafficking of women for sexual purposes.
AIPT: What inspired you to write about this subject?
Calvache: I had the opportunity to meet many sexual slaves that were liberated by the government. This journey let me understand different kinds of sexual exploitation. There is a kind of slavery that feels much like freedom, disguising itself as work and willpower, but it is slavery nonetheless. The testimonies that most disturbed me were those of women who were apparently free — girls who “voluntarily” agreed to their exploitation. Many women live under situations of human trafficking, seemly free, obeying their captors, paying their fees. But why? LA MALA NOCHE is an attempt to understand the motivations of any women who must endure this situation.
AIPT: There is a very interesting use of color in this film, from Pilar’s clothes to the blood. Is this deliberate?
Calvache: The colors of the entire film were planned. Red and green are recurring colors throughout the work. I wanted to provide Dana with that blood-red color, and also with the passion and strength that the color red reflects.
AIPT: I get a Blue Velvet vibe from the film. What are some of your artistic influences?
Calvache: I am fascinated by the work of directors such as Andrea Arnold, Roberto Minervini, David Cronenberg, Lynne Ramsay. I think they all give us movies with painful themes, and they do it in a tense and bright way.
AIPT:There are some shots in the film that show Pilar walking towards a group of men that add a sense of uneasiness. Is this the desired effect?
Calvache: When you watch the movie at the beginning, Dana appears to be walking in the opposite direction of many men. In that first moment, the intention is to sow doubts or curiosity. But when you see Dana again, in the same shot, several minutes later, the purpose is to create a metaphor of what her life has been: an eternal journey against the tide in a macho world. A world in which being a sex slave puts you on the bottom rung.
AIPT: How would you describe La Mala Noche?
Calvache: [Making] this movie was one of the most painful experiences that I’ve had in my life. During the time that I was researching for this film, I fell into depression, caused by the deep sadness instilled in me after hearing all of the heart-wrenching stories from those women who confided their stories to me. Those women underwent the most atrocious situations we can imagine. My challenge as a scriptwriter and director was to bring those stories to life through the character of Dana, which in La Mala Noche is an intelligent, brave woman with an endless drive to survive.
AIPT: The story begins with Julian’s narration, but the story is Pilar’s. Why did you choose to introduce her through Julian’s perspective?
Calvache: The film begins with fragments of the conversations that several clients have with Dana, one of them is Julian. We see Dana in her daily life, having to sleep with these men and also listening to all those personal problems that they transmit to her. They are talking about them and their needs, so I guess the intention was to see her perspective of her day job. I hope I did it.
AIPT:I love that you’re a female director giving voice to this particular issue. How do you think the female perspective shapes the way this story is told?
Calvache: When I was young, I was not aware of how different it is to be a woman rather than a man in this world. But now that I am 42 years old and that I am also a mother, I have discovered that your gender, your age, and being a mother are factors that disable and disqualify you.
Sexual exploitation happens to many teenage women, but there are a large number of adults and women over 30 who are also exploited. For them, there is almost no help. Shelters work to help mainly children and adolescents, but adults and the elderly do not have support. It was for these reasons that I chose a woman, a mother over 40 years old, as the protagonist.
AIPT: What future projects are you working on?
Calvache: I still don’t know what my next movie will be. For me, developing a film project is a process of falling in love, and at this moment, I’m still in love with La Mala Noche. I need to divorce first! Anyway, I’m reading into some options, I’m researching a couple of subjects.
AIPT: What do you want people to think when they leave the theater?
Calvache: I want to spark the audience’s curiosity, make them leave the cinema with the sheer desire to search for more, learn more, and talk to other people about the topic, gain a deeper understanding of the situation of the woman they’ve just met in this film. La Mala Noche is a film that seeks to bring forth questions rather than answers.
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