Sunday, February 16, 2003
Julian Schnabel’s second film, “Before Night Falls,”(a huge improvement over his directional debut, “Basquait”) contains dozens of stunning visuals- interludes saturated in mood- perhaps none so breathtaking as that depicting Reindaldo Areanas (the excellent, Javier Bardem portraying the exiled Cuban artist) arriving in New York City. A gentle snow falls as Areanas drives through the city nightscape in a convertible, laughing as he and a friend lie back and the camera pans up. It’s a simple scene conveying the giddiness of his newfound freedom and haunted by the loss of the country of his birth. It’s the kind of transcendent moment I live for in films. Seeing it for the first time on the big screen back in Chicago (well, actually, it was in Evanston but whatever) with my sister, Robin, I was so overcome by its beauty that I found myself embarrassingly choking back tears. As with many of these scenes, the key to its impact comes from the supporting role of the musical soundtrack and its collection of preexisting Cuban jazz recordings, all of which are fantastic and deftly interwoven. The song accompanying this particular scene, however, is an exception- it’s by the popular Lebanese singer Fairuz (one name only, like Cher.. but her real name is Huhad Haddad). Until I ran across the soundtrack the other day in the racks of Berkeley’s main library, I had never known who sang it or what it was called (“Kamata Mariyam) but I certainly never forgot it. Accompanied by a ney flute(an instrument for which the word ‘plaintive’ was surely created) Fairuz’s voice is so tender, so drenched in nostalgia, that it completely devastates. I must have listened to it half a dozen times alone today.