Plot: What’s it about?
Movies like Before Night Falls don’t come around very often. Though it has all the right cinematic elements going for it, something about the film just didn’t click with me. Based on the true life story of Cuban poet, Reinaldo Arenas (Javier Bardem), Before Night Falls is almost a work of art to watch, yet the storytelling could use a bit of work. It’s no secret that Bardem was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance here, as that’s what originally gravitated me to give this disc a spin. While Bardem’s performance is nothing short of brilliant, it’s very rare that one man can hold down a movie like this. There are very few exceptions, and those that can are getting twenty million a picture to do so. Though the film covers Areneas’ entire life, the majority of it is played by Bardem. Try to not confuse my comments about the film as “dogging” it, because it is simply a beautiful movie, just extremely hard to follow. It seems like the person telling it is drunk, randomly going from point to point with little or no explanation for the in between events. Instead, Julian Schnabel (the director), relies on the imagery of the scenes to take you where you want to go, and some can follow it. For me, I had to “rewind” several scenes and re-read the English subtitles that plagued the entire movie, just to understand what was going on. As you may or may not remember, Schnabel was responsible for the outstanding biographical film “Basquiat” a few years back. Unfortunately he isn’t in as good a form as he was then, but Before Night Falls will appeal to a certain audience.
Bardem’s character of Reinaldo Arenas grew up in poverty in Cuba during one of the most influential times in the country’s history. Though the film only concentrates on his childhood for a few minutes (at the first of the movie, naturally), we can see that he has an affinity for poetry, and also a burdening sexual desire or the same sex (he’s gay). Of course, gay poets in Cuba were not treated with any level of respect, and it may have been this persecution that led him to experience some of his sexual adventures with a prostitute at such an early age (roughly 15). Reinaldo wants to join the rebels, though shunned early on by the driver who picks him up (an almost unrecognizable Sean Penn), he follows his heart. Though we see him next as a student, entering a young writers contest, it’s clear that Arenas is destined to be a great writer. Or so one would think. I don’t want to give too much away, and quite frankly I can’t find a good way to put the rest of the story into words. It’s just one of those kinds of movies, you see. As well-made as it is, and as good as the performances are, it’s just really hard to follow. If you’ve become so addicted to some of the newer movies out there, you may leave partially frustrated, as Schnabel doesn’t worry much about connecting the dots in this movie. The one thing that this movie does do is recognize the talents of the late Reinaldo Arenas as well as establish Javier Bardem as one of the finer performers out there. Though he died over ten years ago, it seems that Reinaldo Arenas is finally getting the attention he so deserved during his life.
Video: How does it look?
Once again, when it comes to New Line “Home Entertainment” (note new title) releases, it begs the question of “Will it look good”, but “How good will it look?” There’s not much room for improvement when it comes to Before Night Falls. Though looking like and shot like a documentary, the scenes ooze of color and clarity. The palette varies from Reinaldo’s lifetime, ranging from a very green during his child years to a very brown and rustic in his later years. Some scenes are stock photography, so it’s natural to assume that they look a bit worse than the film itself does, but for the most part Before Night Falls is yet another testament to how much time and care that New Line takes with their DVD releases. Edge enhancement is not an issue, because it doesn’t exist. The entire movie seems to have a “washed out” effect similar to that of “Saving Private Ryan”, but the detail in some scenes is simply unbelievable. The quality is almost a 3-D effect in some cases. While not a perfect transfer, this is the next best thing to it.
Audio: How does it sound?
Though this movie won’t light up your home theater, Before Night Falls has it’s share of good audio, as evidenced by the Dolby Digital 5.1 track (In both English and Spanish…nice touch). The dialogue is kind of whispy at times, but it’s the way the film was meant to be heard, and not a fault of the DVD. Something about the Spanish language is the fact that if you’re not accustomed to it (and I’m not), it sounds like everyone is mumbling and always looking down when they speak. I’m sure we probably look the same way to them. Still, there are some moments where the soundtrack takes off and you’ll be glad that you’re speakers can accomodate the sound that this disc puts out.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Though not one of their Platinum Series titles (or their new Infinifilm line), New Line has included a few goodies to keep you occupied with the movie. First off is the feature-length commentary with Director Julian Schnabel, actor Javier Bardem, Screenwriter Lazaro Gomez-Carriles, Composer Carter Burwell and Co-Director of Photography Xavier Perez Grobet. Though a “Crowded House” I found this track to be very well managed and somewhat insightful. Some of the scenes that I had questions about while watching the movie weren’t covered by the commentary, but still I did get a deeper understanding of the film and Bardem’s role in it by listening to it. Odds are that if you found the film boring, you won’t want to listen to another two hour commentary, but if you do want to–it’s there. There are also three documentary shorts, and while I might classify them as “featurettes”, I suppose they would fit into the documentary category, as they are documentaries, and not made for the DVD. First up are some excerpts from “Improper Conduct”, a 1983 interview with Reinaldo Arenas. Though it is interesting to see the real man, sadly about six years before his death, we don’t get to see the depth of him as portrayed by Bardem. Personally, I suppose that I was spoiled by his great performance, so the real man seems tame by comparison. The feature runs about 7 minutes, so don’t get too involved! Next up is a Behind the Scenes/Home Movie by Lola Schnabel (the director’s daughter) who has her own camera and filmed various behind the scenes parts while during the filming. Not much here, as the title dictates the content, but it’s interesting to say the least. Lastly, some “Little Notes on Painting” is an interview with director Julian Schnabel, who is also an accomplished artist in addition to being a movie director. Though it runs some 14 minutes, it shows Julian looking at his own work and giving some brief explanation as to what it is and why he did it. Semi-interesting, in my opinion, but it’s better to have it than not to. Lastly, some cast and crew bios as well as a theatrical trailer (presented in anamorphic widescreen) round out the special features. Also included is some DVD-ROM content with a link to the original website among other things. Not a bad offering from New Line. As per usual…