Monday, 21 October 2013

My Favorite Movie Scenes: Before Night Falls

The scene begins with Renaldo Arenas (played by the Oscar Award-winning Javier Bardem), the film's protagonist, sitting in a top-down convertible driving through 1950’s Havana at dusk with his friend and lover Pepe Malas. The star of this scene is the music. It’s a dirge of a tune from Lou Reed called "Rouge". Julian Schnabel, the film's director, known primarily as a "neo-expressionist" artist/painter, made the wise choice of eliminating all sound from this scene aside from the music track. This is why this scene works, but more on that after the jump.

After pulling up to the Tropicana-esque nightclub and cutting to an interior shot of an aquatic show, we are thrust into pre-Castro Cuban nightlife and all its splendor. In a typical movie scene, we would be greeted by foley sound of club goers, the band, layers of conversations. We would then expect, after seeing Renaldo and Pepe sit down and greet a couple, the traditional cut to a tight shot with ambient sound faded out to make room for dialogue. Not so fast, sayeth Mr. Schnabel. Instead, the music serves as the only audio guide through the scene and we become intimate observers of the following:

- Renaldo enamored with his date: the bold, uber-masculine and bisexual Pepe.
- They are approached by Tomas Diego, played by Olivier Martiniez, and his female date.
- Pepe leads Tomas’ date to the dance floor where heavy petting ensues, visibly upsetting Renaldo .
- Renaldo is forced to watch said petting from a lonely vantage point until Tomas mercifully offers him a cigarette and the two share a moment.
- Tomas and Renaldo leave the club together and meander across a bridge overlooking the Malecon.
- Cut to Renaldo’s POV removing Tomas’ glasses and fade to black.

 What’s remarkable about Schnabel’s decision to forgo all sound other than the music track is how well it punctuates the feeling of being in that nightclub. You can smell the cigar smoke, the vibration of the percussion, the sweat flying off the throngs of dancers. The camera floats through the room and cuts away from the actors on all the right downbeats. There is a resonance to the sounds that aren’t made by the background actors, making the music and emotion pouring on screen all the more palpable.

 The scene is a standalone short film with a run time of less than 3 minutes. No dialogue or special effects needed. For all you young filmmakers and directors our there who don’t have access to a 50’s-era Cuban nightclub and Javier Bardem, try filming a scene at a local bar, club, restaurant, or even park. Find 3 people who can tell a story with their eyes and build a narrative with body language and your own unique point of view. You may not be Julian Schnabel, but you will be surprised at how liberating it is to embrace your limitations.

What did you think of "Before the Night Falls"? What are some of your favorite movie scenes, and why? Tell us what inspires you!

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