It is tempting to consider Gus Van Sant (b. 1952) a rare example of a director who has moved from no- budget arthouse to commercial filmmaking while retaining some independence of thought. Many people associate Van Sant with the box office success of the film Good Will Hunting (1997), a non-gay Oscar-fodder off-beat drama.
But it would be more accurate to say that it is becoming increasingly more and more difficult to distinguish between tributaries and mainstream, now that Sundance is synonymous with a ‘dysfunctional anti-hero’ subgenre that the mainstream also loves. Consider the reception of the Gus Van Sant-directed Milk (2008), the biopic of a gay activist, in recent memory.
The film we have selected for our season, Mala Noche (1982), looked pretty weird when it came out. Off centre, speaking its own slippery dialect. Tough as a piece of hardware, scurrying as an undocumented migrant, sparkling as a kid with a cardboard box, hypnotic as a tune whistled to relieve boredom.
The first time you do something, it is likely to be a bit of a mess – but look at Van Sant’s first film, Mala Noche. The director is so confident, his work is so full-blown beautiful, that you’d think he was born like this.