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|Before Night Falls|
Actors: Javier Bardem, Johnny Depp, Olatz López Garmendia, Giovanni Florido, Loló Navarro
Director: Julian Schnabel
An incredible journey through the life and work of the late cuban poet reinaldo arenas whose courageous fight for personal expression defied censorship and persecution. Special features: subtitles in english spanish and fr... more »
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Very Powerful Filmmaking
Luis Hernandez | New York, New York, USA | 07/31/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Based on the memoirs of the late gay Cuban poet/author Reinaldo Arenas, "Before Night Falls" is a lengthy, depressing, yet brutally realistic film on the life Arenas before, during, and after the Cuban Revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power. Starting with his childhood in rural Holguin, Cuba, the film covers every aspect of Arenas' upbringing, his attraction to men, and his run-ins with revolutionary agents as he became one of the island nation's most prominent writers.Arenas, portrayed excellently by Spanish actor Javier Bardem, sees his life change dramatically, first from what he believes will become a promising age of development after the ruthless Batista regime is toppled by Castro's forces, to later a life of living in fear and hiding as he is blacklisted due to his writings and homosexuality by the new regime's ideological police.As the film progresses, we see how Arenas deals with the repression of the regime in it's early days, and his persecution for his writings, many that were smuggled out of Cuba by French sympathizers of Arenas's work. Later arrested for a crime that he didn't commit, Arenas finds himself a fugitive living in Cuba, until he is arrested and sent to a Cuban prison before his eventual departure from the island in the Mariel Boatlift of the late 1970'sThe film, which is one of the most powerful pieces of filmmaking I have seen in recent years, was directed with style and respect by Julian Schnabel. The film, which is a pioneer to the sense of the many visuals of the male anatomy/body used to illustrate this story of growing up gay in Castro's Cuba might disturb some people who are not accustomed in seeing this on the silver screen and/or gay sexuality. However, this shouldn't be a reason in not seeing this film.Many excellent actors lend their talent to this, most notably Johnny Depp ("Edward Scissorhands") in a dual role as a prison manager and as a drag queen entertainer at the prison. Also contributing his immense talent is Sean Penn ("U-Turn") in a small role as a wagon driver who picks up a young Arenas on his way to fight in the Revolution. Also many fans of Latin telenovelas will recognize Cuban actor Francisco Gattorno ("Strawberry and Chocolate") in a rare English-language role as a French sympathizer who helps Arenas get his work published abroad in France. Simply one of the best films of 2000, this is a must-see film for anyone interested in Cuba, it's people, or human rights. While many might see the Castro regime as a very repressive one, in fact the previous Batista regime was equally as ruthless with homosexuals, especially those in Cuba's high society. In the past decade, Castro has allowed greater freedom for homosexuals, so much that the Cuban government funded the Academy-Award nominated for Best Foreign Film, "Strawberry & Chocolate") back in the early 1990's. One of the best films of 2000! I highly recommend it."
Westley | Stuck in my head | 03/09/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Before Night Falls" recounts the incredible life of Cuban poet and novelist Reinaldo Arenas, played with great sensitivity by Spanish actor Javier Bardem. Born a peasant in the 1930's, Arenas had the great misfortune of being a gay writer in a country that considered art and homosexuality to be counter-revolutionary. "Before Night Falls" is based on his memoir and relates his imprisonment in Cuba and subsequent exodus to the United States. Despite this persecution, Arenas' work flourished and was published widely, albeit mostly outside of Cuba.Director Julian Schnabel is a well-known "neo-expressionist" painter; accordingly, he is able to bring an artist's understanding and sensibility to the story. His prior film was "Basquiat," about the 1980's graffiti artist. Although Schnabel seems to be limiting himself to portraits of artists, the two films are very disparate. Specifically, "Before Night Falls" is much grander in scope and incorporates more directorial flourishes than does "Basquiat." Despite the epic sweep of the film, Schnabel successfully tells Arenas' very personal and heart-rending story. Another major asset of the film is the cinematography and ambiance; vibrant colors and people populate the film. The viewer is transported to 1960s Cuba; you can feel the humidity and the pulse of the Mambo music.Javier Bardem gives an astonishing performance, for which he deservedly received Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for Best Actor. For the role, he was required to learn Cuban-Spanish as well as English. The DVD extras include a 7 minute interview with Arenas, and it's apparent that Bardem nails the look and speech of the artist, without reverting to a simple impersonation. Although most of the actors are of Latin descent, two big American stars have small roles: Johnny Depp has hilarious joint roles as a Cuban transvestite and a Cuban general, and Sean Penn plays a peasant farmer, rather convincingly too. The only minor debit of the film is that it's a tad over-long and could have used a bit more editing. However, overall, "Before Night Falls" is a superb film that perfectly captures another time and another place. Most highly recommended. Extras: The extras include an interesting commentary track with Schnabel and Bardem, a short behind-the-scenes documentary filmed by Schnabel's daughter, and an interview with Arenas conducted in 1984 after he immigrated to the U.S."
Better To Die Free Than Live Dead
Jeffrey Ellis | Richardson, Texas United States | 10/18/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Before Night Falls is the second film from painter Julian Schnabel. Much like his first film, Basquiat, Schnabel uses this film to explore the life of another late artist -- the Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas. The film follows Arenas for his birth to Cuban peasants, his concurrent discoveries of both homosexuality and poetry during his youth, and his eventual, Hellish imprisonment under Fidel Castro's communist regime. Arenas was eventually sent to America as a part of the Mariel boatlift which later became infamous for being made up of several psychotics and habitual criminals. That Castro also included a large number of gay Cubans amongst this bunch shows the beyond low regard in which gays were held in what many still foolishly consider to be Castro's "enlightened" government. Settling in New York and living in great poverty (but finally with the freedom to be, regardless of his sexuality, acknowledged as a human being), Arenas eventually developed AIDS and killed himself in the early '90s. It doesn't sound like a happy story yet strangely, one cannot help but be inspired by this film. Certainly, the scenes in Cuba are the strongest. Though this is not an explicitly political film and Schnabel is hardly a right-winger, he is still unflinching in portraying how Castro's regime established its power by punishing anyone who dared to display any form of individuality and how homosexuals -- who were hardly on society's A list before Castro came to power -- became a convenient scapegoat. Through prodigous excerpts from Arenas's writings, Schnabel also shows how, under a system where freedom is forbidden, both art and any display of defiant individuality (in this case, Arenas' sexuality) become all the more important. They become a lifeblood and finally, the only way to keep oneself from becoming a member of the living dead. Once Arenas reaches America, the film is a little less sure of itself and, until Arenas finds himself facing death -- at times, it seemed that Arenas made it to America and the next day, discovered he was dying. The parts of the film dealing with Schnabel's illness might leave some viewers uncomfortable as Schnabel doesn't attempt to sentimentalize or preach. Yes, it is clear that Arenas, at least according to this film, contracted the disease through having unsafe sex and some might say that, for all his talk of freedom, Arenas' freedom to pursue his lifestyle has now killed him. But I think to say that would be to seriously misread this film. AIDS is presented as a risk but, at the same time, its clear that to have the freedom to live life the way you want is more important than that risk. As well, in New York, at least Arenas has the right to end his own life as opposed to Cuba where he would have been tossed, more or less, into a concentration camp. In the end, this is a film celebrating freedom -- artistic and personal -- and embracing the potential risks involved in that freedom.As a painter, Schnabel is infamous for his huge canvasses and at times, this film does feel like its striving too hard to be epic and, as a result, about to crash and burn. However, Schnabel always manages to retain control and, only towards the end, does it seem occasionally a little overlong. Visually, the film is hauntingly beautiful (especially in the Cuba segments) and Schnabel shows a good feel for getting good performances from his actors. Javier Bardem is amazing in the lead role -- providing a valuable anchor for the film and never allowing himself to play a 1-D saint. Amongst the other actors, the best known are probably Sean Penn and Johnny Depp in two brief cameos. Penn shows up as Areas' father and is actually a bit of a distraction but he's only on screen for a few minutes. Depp plays two roles during the Cuban prison scenes -- a cross-dressing inmate and a sadistic prison warden. Though at first it might seem like stunt casting, Depp's two roles make a valuable point about the totalitarian existence -- the only real difference between the outcasts and the establishment is the uniform worn."
Bardem's Performance is the Highlight
Jose R. Perez | Yonkers, NY USA | 05/01/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The sweltering Cuban countryside becomes a metaphor for the dual revolutions that co-exist in this film. At once stunningly beautiful and heartbreakingly deppressed, "Before NIght Falls" testifies to the power of both the forces of nature and the innate condition of the human self. Javier Bardem is brilliant as the noted writer Reinaldo Arenas, who was publicly humiliated by the Castro regime for daring to tell the truth, about his country, the revolution itself, and his own inner self. Edited to resemble a rollercoaster ride, viewers might find themselves lost on occassion by the mix of political and personal stroies, told against the backdrop of a persecuting dictatorship that has thus far existed survived beyond anyone's wildest expectations. To the director's credit, the Cuban landscape is etched with majestic beauty and pathos, at once incredibly beautiful and yet bittersweet, as if all the color had been drained from it. Bardem does a wonderful job of conveying Arena's mixture of pain and hope, first showing the support the writer had for Castro and then seeing the personal pain the dictator imposed. The prison sequences, some of which are told in dream settings, are forceful and rich, evocative of "Midnight Express" and yet intensely personal. While the film portrays the artist's reality in a manner some viewers found difficult to take, its nightmarish vision of how the Cuban people have suffered is notable. Few films have dared to delve into such challenging themes, and fewer still have gone within a Latino culture that at once celebrates its machoisms yet cheers the humiliation of its own. In some ways, "Before Night Falls" is a testament to the power of personal will and the search for freedom, both from one's politics and one's own self. The ending sequences, which involve dramatic and lucid moments of utter fear and pain drive home the message that sometimes, even freedom comes with a price (in this case AIDS.) Some audience members might find the film too harried and rushed, but "Before Night Falls" is deeply moving and well worth a viewing."