Cast & Crew
Lazaro Gomez Carilles
Andrea Di Stefano
Bon Bon/Lieutenant Victor
Herberto Zorilla Ochoa
Produced by Matthias Ehrenberg, Olatz Lopez Garmendia,
Jon Kilik and Julian Schnabel; Directed by Julian
Schnabel; Screenwritten by Cunningham O'Keefe, Lázaro
Gómez Carriles and Julian Schnabel; based on the memoirs
"Before Night Falls" by Reynaldo Arenas
Drama (US); Rated R for language, explicit
sex situations and nudity; Running Time - 133 Minutes
Domestic Release Date
January 26, 2001
by DAVID KEYES
are probably some of the most courageous and strong-willed
individuals in existence because most of their inspiration
is derived from the intense suffering that usually envelops
their own lives. Since they understand and identify with
the content that goes in their products, they have little
trouble in finding a loyal audience. And though their motivation
can at times lead to bizarre and ambiguous endeavors, they
have to be applauded, if only for the fact that every ounce
of pain that has been inflicted on them inspires them to
create rather than to destroy.
"Before Night Falls," a biopic about Cuban writer Reinaldo
Arenas, that kind of story is echoed. It tells of a young
boy raised in a household of poverty, whose interests in
writing were instantly spurred by his lifestyle conditions,
leading him to seek out those ambitions once he had grown
up and moved into the city. Cuba, of course, was a fascist
dictatorship by the mid 1960s (the time in which Arenas
begins pursuing his desire), and any person with different
ideas or lifestyles was instantly thought of as a threat
to the government. Fidel Castro directly targeted artists
and homosexuals as the immediate flies in his revolution,
and since the young Cuban was both, the path towards his
dreams was hardly paved in gold.
ways, the rest of his life was not subject to much improvement.
He wrote nine or ten books during his lifetime, but most
of them were published overseas because of censorship issues
in Cuba (to do this, Arenas had to smuggle them out of the
country). Later, he was wrongfully accused of molesting
minors and then sent to jail, where he spent years as the
subject of much abuse because of his controversial publications.
And just as he was spit out of the justice system, he was
exiled from his own country, condemned to live the remainder
of his life elsewhere. He died at his residence in New York
City in 1990 after a long battle with AIDS. Shortly after,
his autobiography, sharing the title with this movie, was
is all interesting on paper, but "Before Night Falls" is
not exactly the most enthralling descent into these events.
The movie is beautifully rendered, with photography that
is gritty and distinctive, and acting so solid that it practically
jumps off of the screen. But the story itself is all over
the map, so unfocused and distant that it isn't even sure
how to make the viewers feel. There is a scene near the
halfway point that acts as "Exhibit A" under this issue,
in which Reinaldo is badgered by a Cuban guard played by
Johnny Depp (he has two roles in the movie, the other being
a prisoner who dresses as a woman and has an ulterior talent
for smuggling), who taunts the writer with the possibility
of freedom from prison, but only if he agrees to certain
compromises. Reinaldo has a daydream during this scene in
which the prison guard is aroused and then pulls the writer's
head towards his waste. The scene is so mysteriously conveyed
that we don't know whether to laugh or be shocked.
film's biggest asset is the lead performance from Javier
Bardem, who is as confident about his portrayal as few actors
would be. He approaches the Arenas role as if he's memorized
the persona, expressing a cluster of distinctive emotions
at all the right moments without ever seeming too involved
or obligated. Even when the script is unsure about the character's
direction, Bardem is flawless in his conviction. It would
be a big mistake not to consider him among the year's top
Best Actor Oscar contenders.
to what extent can the movie be forgiven for narrative flaws?
I dunno. There are more here than previously mentioned.
There is, for instance, an issue of consistency with the
narrative; while the majority of the picture is spoken in
English, there are unexpected (and pointless) excursions
when the characters abruptly shift gears and start speaking
Spanish, then return back to the former before we can get
use to the change. There is no sense of rhythm or pace in
any of this. And furthermore, how are we supposed to know
exactly how good a writer Reinaldo was when we never get
to see (or hear) any of his work on screen?
Night Falls" does not work here as a movie. Even though
Bardem is highly engaging as the lead character, and the
images that surround him are among some of the most evocative
I've seen, the treatment has no stability. A trip to the
bookstore to pick up Arenas' memoirs might be a better decision
than seeking out this miscalculated character drama. With
any luck, the book itself would at least offer some insight
into what made Arenas so controversial and recognized as
2001, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
Please e-mail the author here
if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.