Before Night Falls

"Good"

Before Night Falls Review


Reinaldo Arenas was a gifted Cuban novelist and poet whose life of poverty, hardship, revolution, censorship, imprisonment and exile never stemmed his formulation of passionate prose.

In "Before Night Falls," artist/filmmaker Julien Schnabel pays devotional homage to the writer with a soul-probing and beautifully cinematic adaptation of his memoirs, begun in a Cuban prison in 1973 and published posthumously after he succumbed to AIDS in New York in 1990.

The film, which tracks Arenas's entire life beginning with his childhood in a dirt-floored farmhouse, features dulcet, moving voice-overs from his poetry. It boasts powerful symbolism and political statements about freedom and persecution, not to mention cinematography that brings vividly to life the ironic contrast of Cuba's impoverished living conditions with its breathtaking beauty.

But what drives this engrossing biography is the potent but subtle, complex, intimate and magnetic portrayal of the author by Javier Bardem ("Boca a Boca"). With a natural, unaffected charisma and a generous smile full of both veritable joy and sonorous melancholy, Bardem is reminiscent of a Latin (and sober) Robert Downey, Jr. His brilliant performance gives such spirit and depth to Arenas's every nuance that it feels like he's sitting next to you in the theater, whispering his life story in your ear.

That story follows Arenas from his failing childhood farm to his idealistic teen years as a soldier in Castro's rebel army, then to the writing contest that led to a job at the national library where his creativity was nurtured by a mentor who lent him a comprehensive reading list including everything from the Bible to Melville to Kafka.

Schnabel -- whose only previous film was his controversial homage to fellow painter "Basquiat" -- treats Arenas's homosexuality quite matter-of-factly, although it is integral to many parts of the story. Sometimes this has the desired effect, making his sexual preference a non-issue from the audience's point of view. However, this biography is so thorough that at other times it feels incomplete because no mention is made of when he realized he was gay or of any internal struggles Arenas may have had with his sexuality, especially considering the culture in which he was raised.

The film is more focused on the political. As Castro cracks down on the intellectual community in the early 1970s, Arenas is forced to publish his work overseas after being censored at home. He watches a close friend confess falsely on television to crimes against the state, and before long he's a fugitive himself -- until his capture and imprisonment as a "rapist, murderer and CIA agent."

(One of the film's most wrenching episodes is when Arenas himself breaks under interrogation. Given the chance to go free, he betrays himself, writing "All the work I have done before now is garbage. I deny my homosexual condition. I am converted into a man by this revolution.")

Every moment up to this point is utterly absorbing, and the 133-minute film only begins to drag after Arenas's escape to the United States in the Mariel Harbor boatlift, during which Castro allowed undesirables (gays, ex-cons, the mentally ill) to leave Cuba en masse. Once he becomes stricken with AIDS, "Before Night Falls" takes 15 minutes too long to wind down and it becomes a get-on-with-it deathwatch.

But even with its shortcomings, this is one of the most passionately told screen biographies ever made.



Before Night Falls

Facts and Figures

Run time: 133 mins

In Theaters: Friday 26th January 2001

Box Office USA: $2.8M

Box Office Worldwide: $8.5M

Distributed by: Fine Line Features

Production compaines: El Mar Pictures, Grandview Pictures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 73%
Fresh: 72 Rotten: 26

IMDB: 7.3 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Julien Schnabel

Starring: as Carlos, as Reinaldo Arenas, as Lazaro Gomez Carilles, as Pepe Malas, as Lieutenant Victor, as Cuco Sanchez, as Herberto Zorilla Ochoa, as Fina Correa, as Virgilio Pinera, Pedro Armendáriz, Jr. as Reinaldos Großvater, as Juan Abreu

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

The Party Movie Review

The Party Movie Review

Comedies don't get much darker than this pitch-black British movie, written and directed by Sally...

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) Movie Review

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) Movie Review

Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha) is on his way to becoming the new Woody Allen, which...

6 Below Movie Review

6 Below Movie Review

Based on an astonishing true survival story, this film is subtitled "Miracle on the Mountain",...

Mother Movie Review

Mother Movie Review

Darren Aronofsky doesn't make fluffy movies, and has only had one genuine misfire (2014's Noah)....

Blade Runner 2049 Movie Review

Blade Runner 2049 Movie Review

It's been 35 years since Ridley Scott's 1982 sci-fi classic, which was set in 2019....

On the Road Movie Review

On the Road Movie Review

Wolf Alice fans are likely to be rather disappointed by this hybrid documentary-drama about the...

Borg/McEnroe Movie Review

Borg/McEnroe Movie Review

Skilfully made by Swedish filmmaker Janus Metz (the award-winning Armadillo), this film is essentially a...

Advertisement
The Glass Castle Movie Review

The Glass Castle Movie Review

There are quite a few terrific moments in this true story, based on the memoir...

Home Again Movie Review

Home Again Movie Review

Reese Witherspoon is so likeable that she can carry even the most hackneyed of romantic...

Brimstone Movie Review

Brimstone Movie Review

An unnerving Western with a sharp female perspective, this film is a series of gruesome...

Kingsman: The Golden Circle Movie Review

Kingsman: The Golden Circle Movie Review

Two years ago, Kingsman: The Secret Service seemed to come out of nowhere, ruffling feathers...

Goodbye Christopher Robin Movie Review

Goodbye Christopher Robin Movie Review

This biopic about Winnie the Pooh author A.A. Milne may look like the usual lushly...

Wind River Movie Review

Wind River Movie Review

After writing the superb Sicario and Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan moves back into...

The Vault Movie Review

The Vault Movie Review

Filmmakers Dan Bush and Conal Byrne attempt a mash-up of a frantic heist movie with...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.