Twilight is a state of mind that provides the true setting for this story that seems to be a fragment of a greater whole, but nevertheless has its own peculiar beauty. The black and white photography is stunning and seductive, and perfect for the film noir desperation (occasionally melodramatic but never posturing) with which these characters seem to run their lives. The director uses chiaroscuro, the play of light and shadow over the faces and bodies of his players, to hint at people's emotions or to suggest the cluelessness with which they get through the day. Despite the sense of general confusion, there are poignant and powerful emotions that surface here, thanks to the skillfully nuanced photography and the expressiveness of the actors.
The casting is perfect, but among the actors only Tim Streeter really seems to give a coherently thought-through performance. Streeter, to judge from his performance here, is an actor of brilliance and considerable sensitivity--it's sad that his only other credit is a 1987 appearance on 21 Jump Street. A lot of the shots in the movie are composed with great inventiveness, but the visual beauty that results never feels arty or contrived, mainly because of the gritty realities that encompass the characters' lives and passions.
Certain scenes in this movie made me think of images that surface in the songs of indie bard Elliott Smith, whose music was used in Gus van Sant's much glitzier mainstream movie, Good Will Hunting. Images of lonely people smoking late nights away over cheap beers in loud bars, waiting for their sense of woundedness to dull sufficiently so that they can go back out on the street and face some semblance of life again. The use of music is yet another element that gives Mala Noche a distinctive flavor--the music credits cover several screens at the end of the movie--as one would expect with a director who is also a composer and musician in his own right.
Poetic, frail, fragmentary and haunting, this is one of those movies where, even if you never quite get the story, certain images from it will nevertheless linger a long time in your memory after you have seen it.