Before the Last Curtain Falls (or Bevor der letzte Vorhang fällt) is a film that documents the final show of renowned Belgian cabaret Gardenia, a show that has traveled to five continents and been performed over 200 times. Or rather it documents the people who are performing the cabaret for the last time.
Purely as a story and insight into the lives of people the film is fascinating. Intercut throughout we’re given a sense of what the lives of five of the performers are like. These segments become the meat of the film, to the point where you could rather say that cabaret segments are intercut with their stories. One is promoting a political party, another works as a nurse in an infant ward, while another works as a cleaner at a pleasure house. Straight from the get go there’s the sense that the lives of these gay men and trans women are vastly different, yet they’re all clearly united in this show, despite being on different segments of the transgender, transsexual and homosexual spectrums.
The film is a great piece of filmmaking, the silent, performance art cabaret show is never fully explained and is instead used as an emotional and thematic touchstone that also informs the structure of the film and also conveys it as a platform for them to express themselves. The first instance of show footage sees the performers posing for short periods of time, this informs the first wave of life insights which are very short and feel like snapshots. As the film continues the show segments become more elaborate and the segments with the people grow longer.
Later we see stark, floating shots of a city with extremely deep depth of field, it’s yet another instance of form informing content, as if to imply that all will be revealed, and the subjects are certainly telling us everything. The cinematography during the show implies the same, with Malick-esque floating and encircling shots that provide unflattering close-ups of their faces. They are bare, laying it all out. Over the course of the show the actors shed their suits and dress up in increasingly elaborate drag, culminating in a scene where they dress up as several queer icons. This also serves as a metaphor for how they have changed their exteriors over the course of their lives.
Before the Last Curtain Falls is frequently heartbreaking, not only because this force of unification for these people is dissipating, but also due to the contents of their stories. Fear, rejection, marginalization and prostitution are common themes in their lives. It’s unnerving how normalized it has become for some of them, for instance one of the subjects says that she hasn’t really had it that bad, she’d only been beaten to the point of hospitalization twice. Hearing something like that is gut wrenching. Layer that on top of being ostracized from their families and in some cases their own pasts. Ultimately it’s about acceptance and love, all of them are looking for love and almost all of them are alone. The filmmaker, director Thomas Wallner, is only ever directly visible when he asks one question when enquiring to Vanessa about her past, before her operation. The pain in her eyes is instantly visible as she pleads with him not to ask her about it. Seeing someone unable to even seek refuge in their own past is enough to push one to tears.
The Good: The skill of the filmmaking and the rawness of the stories.
The Show: One of the subjects dresses up as Norma Desmond from Sunset Blvd and the impression is amazingly spot on. Crazy eyes!
The Sad: It’s consistently depressing how marginalized people are for simply being ‘different’ from some imaginary norm. Be nice people, literally everything would be better.