banner image

:: Before Night Falls

Reinaldo Arenas had the misfortune to be a writer and a homosexual in post revolutionary Cuba, where being either one could send you to prison. “Before Night Falls” is the almost documentary like depiction of Arenas’ life, from his poverty stricken childhood, to his imprisonment, exile and eventual death in New York from AIDS in 1990. Played truthfully and touchingly by Javier Bardem, Arenas’ life illustrates the cruelty of the Castro regime and the impossibility of art under any form of dictatorship.

“Before Night Falls” is Julian Schnabel’s second film, following “Basquiat”, a biopic dramatically different in form and content. Based on Arenas’ memoirs, “Before Night Falls” beautifully mixes historical footage of the violence, rallies and riots that took place during and after the revolution, with poetic scenes of Arenas as he writes, loves and suffers. The voice over gives the audience, most probably unfamiliar with Arenas’ work, a feel for his style and Bardem recites his prose, as passages.

The film was sometimes hard to follow, accents were thick and a sound knowledge of Cuba’s history would go a long way in filling in some of the gaps, but it was such a sensory feast that that usually didn’t matter. The evocation of a time and place is superb, Cuba is beautiful but crumbling, its people also. Bardem is definitely deserving of his best actor prize at the Venice Film Festival, evoking a man able to retain his humour and humanity in the face of gross injustice. Two Hollywood cameos add an odd yet entertaining angle, Sean Penn at the start, nearly unrecognisable as a Cuban traveller, and particularly Johnny Depp as a handsome lieutenant, the object of a lustful and very funny fantasy.

A little over long at 125 minutes, “Before Night Falls” reflects the directors history as a painter and sculptor, the semantics of film language sometimes ignored in favour of feel, movement and texture. Some of the images, particularly the hot air balloon, are striking in their beauty as they contrast with the grittiness of Cuban life. It is impossible to walk away from this film unmoved.