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10/10
Thought Provoking Drama
jhclues12 May 2001
There's a lyrical quality to this film that makes the brutality of the oppression it depicts seem almost tangible, and `Before Night Falls, ` directed by Julian Schnabel, is photographed in a way that gives much of it something of a documentary feel (and, indeed, some archival footage is included), which defines the drama and adds to the overall impact of the film. And quite a story it is. The true story of writer Reinaldo Arenas (Javier Bardem), who was born in Cuba in 1943, it touches on his childhood, but concentrates on the '60s and '70s, during which time Arenas was considered a counter-revolutionary by the Cuban government because of his writing, as well as his homosexuality.

Schnabel pulls no punches as he presents an incisive picture of the suffering inflicted upon Arenas (and others) through the wanton mistreatment and discrimination of Castro's regime. Extremely well crafted and delivered, it's a film that makes a powerful statement about many of the things so many take for granted. Like freedom of speech and assembly. For as the film points out, in post-revolution Cuba, a gathering of more than three becomes a criminal offense; a group of people getting together for a poetry reading become criminals of the State, and the punishment for expressing one's own thoughts can be, at the very least, torture and imprisonment.

This is the environment in which Arenas grew and matured, as a person, a poet, a writer; still, he was irrepressible when it came to his work, and managed to create and have some of it published, but only by smuggling it out of Cuba (in one instance to France, where his book was named Best Foreign Novel of the year). It's a ruthless, uncompromising world Schnabel lays bare with his camera, and it's that realistic recreation of that very real time and place that is one of the strengths of this film. But what really drives it and makes it so compelling, is Bardem's incredible portrayal of Arenas.

To say that Bardem's performance was worthy of an Oscar would be an understatement; along with Ed Harris (in `Pollock'), it was quite simply one of the two best of the year (2000). In order to bring Arenas to life, it was necessary for Bardem to capture all of the myriad complexities of the man and the artist, which he did-- and to perfection. It's a challenging role, and Bardem more than lives up to it, with a detailed performance through which he expresses the physical, as well as the emotional aspects of the character: His mannerisms, his walk, the body language that says so much about who he is; how he copes with living in a seemingly hopeless situation. By the end of the movie, because of Bardem, you know who Reinaldo Arenas was, and you're not likely to forget him.

The most poignant scenes in the film are those in which Arenas' words are being recited as the camera creates a visual context for them, looking out through the window of a moving car or bus at the streets, towns, buildings and people, as Arenas describes them. These scenes fill the senses and are virtually transporting; and it is in them that the true poetic nature of Arenas is made manifest. It's beautiful imagery, and the contrast between the beauty of the words and the ugliness of the reality against which it is set is powerful. All of which is beautifully conceived and executed by Schnabel; an excellent piece of filmmaking.

In a dual supporting performance, Johnny Depp is effective as Bon Bon, a `queen' Arenas meets during his incarceration, and also as Lieutenant Victor, who oversees the prison. Each character is unique, and it's quite a showcase for Depp's versatility.

Rounding out the supporting cast are Olivier Martinez (Lazaro), Andrea Di Stefano (Pepe), Sean Penn (Cuco), Michael Wincott (Herberto), Pedro Armendariz Jr. (Reinaldo's Grandfather) and Vito Maria Schnabel (Teenage Reinaldo). A film that is not necessarily entertaining, and at times unpleasant to watch because of it's stark realism, `Before Night Falls' is, nevertheless, thought-provoking, riveting drama that is thoroughly engrossing. And it proves that beauty can indeed be found in the least likely of places. But it also makes you realize that it is up to each individual to care enough to seek it out, and to hopefully have the wisdom to realize it once it is found. And that's the real beauty of a film like this; it affords you the opportunity to do just that. I rate this one 10/10.
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8/10
Engaging, poetic, touching bio-pic about Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas.
Ben_Cheshire25 April 2004
Incredible central performance from Javier Bardem ties the film together and makes you really care what happens. Great supporting players: Sean Penn has one incredible scene early on, who had us convinced he was Cuban. We didn't at all recognise him. Johnny Depp plays two small parts, but two very memorable ones. Growly-voiced Michael Wincott (played the bad guy in The Crow and Along Came a Spider and The Doors' manager in The Doors) is memorable. Andrea di Stefano is great as a central antagonist of Reinaldo, as is the now-Hollywood-famous Olivier Martinez who plays a touching, platonic friend to Reinaldo.

Beautifully photographed and directed in an admirable manner that draws attention to style every now and then in a poetic way very fitting for a bio-pic about a poet, and at other times just utilises style to tells the story very well, and seem not to be fussing about style at all.

There are scenes here where the sound effects track stops and this gorgeous cello music by Carter Burwell (composer of Being John Malkovich, Meet Joe Black, Man who Wasn't There, with another beautiful score) plays while we watch Bardem sitting in a club while people dance around him, and the music tells us he is far away. It is a wonderful scene, akin to Kurosawa's use of music in the brilliant burning of the first castle scene in Ran.

The way the camera tells this story was so marvellous and slick (though using rough camera work to tell moments of uneasiness, importantly this is not over-used as it was in the recent Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) that i knew the filmmaker had been influenced by American filmmaking, but throughout i had no idea the guy actually WAS American! The TV program misleadingly told us it was a Cuban movie (which it is not - it is an American production with Spanish, Cuban and American actors)

I'm even more shocked considering this is the guy who made Basquiat, which i always thought was more a tele-movie, and more about art than about movie-style. Julian Schnabel, i now learn, was a neo-expressionist painter in the 80's! Basquiat, about an artist, perhaps was a movie where he was making the transition between art-language and movie-language. Before Night Falls uses traditional storytelling, to be sure, but it has such a spellbinding cinematic quality i felt sure its director was one with cinema on the brain. Perhaps Schnabel has caught the bug after all.
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8/10
Slow but beautiful
paul2001sw-128 August 2005
The little-discussed topic of the persecution of homosexuals in Castro's Cuba is the prevailing theme throughout Julan Schnabel's masterful film of the life of writer Reinaldo Arenas. But this is far more than a simple piece of political agit-prop; instead, it's a beautifully constructed movie about the artistic temperament but with plenty of the same quality itself; visually, the movie is consistently striking, and yet of a piece. There's also a fine performance from Javier Bardem in the lead role. What the film doesn't do very much is follow it's characters in real time for anything longer than the duration of a snapshot; this slightly distances the viewer from the mechanics of the drama, and in consequence, at times it feels slow. Instead, it communicates through images (and fragments of the writer's own poetry); and the scene where the hot air balloon rises through the roof of a ruined church is so perfectly created it's a work of art in itself. 'Before Night Falls' is not light entertainment; but it's seriously good.
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9/10
One of the best movies I have seen
shaid21 February 2001
This is simply a good movie. After seeing it I wanted to read more of Arenas' writing and wanted to know more about him.

The film focus on some milestones in Arenas' life and through him tells the story of the Cuban revolution. Arenas was a huge supporter of the revolution and truly believed that through it he can have more freedom and his fate and disillusion with it is somewhat tragic.

The film use a realistic approach to its subject matter and use to its advantage footage from the archive. Schnabel's direction is restrain and give the film its power. Javier Bardem is superb as Arenas and his Oscar nomination is well deserved,though it is shame his chance of winning is close to zero. He carries the film on his shoulders and make you care of what happens to Arenas. Supporting actors are also good and help the film very much.

Just go and see this film.It is powerful.It convey its message well and it is one of the best film I have seen in long time
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10/10
One of the few truly great...
suzy q12329 March 2001
... and original films to come out in 2001. In a year of cookie cutter banal stupid films (check your local papers to see what I mean) this film dares to have a point of view. Shot in one of the most interesting styles (or lack of styles) filled with interesting people who seem like they could really exist, this is a film that I would dare to call a work of art. Why aren't more hollywood movies this bold and interesting?
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7/10
Powerful and Affecting
eht5y22 June 2005
Julian Schnabel is primarily a visual artist and secondarily a film director, and his mastery of visual media dominates this patient and precise bio of the late Reynaldo Arenas, a novelist and poet who was imprisoned and later exiled from his native Cuba for his controversial writings and his open homosexuality.

Most of the objections to this film have to do with the faithfulness with which Schnabel treats the memoir of Arenas (also titled 'Before Night Falls'), which, despite its beauty, is undoubtedly biased in its presentation of history. Furthermore, Schnabel seems to downplay Arenas' contempt for Fidel Castro and the post-revolutionary totalitarianism of his regime, under which countless poets, writers, artists, and practitioners of alternative lifestyles deemed 'counter-revolutionary' by the regime were jailed, tortured, murdered, and, in some cases, expelled from Cuba. Schnabel presents Arenas as far more of a victim than an active voice of dissent, which is, in a certain sense, unfaithful to his legacy. It feels as if Schnabel may have had some reservation about being overcritical of Castro and, by default, of Communism, both of which are sympathized with by many artists and leftists worldwide (including the family of the film's star, Javier Bardem, a Spaniard whose parents--influential figures in Spanish cinema--are longtime outspoken Communists/Socialists).

Both actor and director have publicly avowed that the film means to critique totalitarianism in general more so than Castro or Communist Cuba in particular, which seems like a bit of a cop-out. Nevertheless, art, despite its inherently political nature, should strive to be a-political, and this film does so effectively with its blending of gorgeous image and fine, subtle performance, particularly by Bardem as Arenas. Bardem has the face of a classical statue, and his deep set eyes, broken, Roman nose, and expressive mouth are mesmerizing. With the right role, he could (and should) be a major star in the US, as he has been for some time in his native Spain. Every move he makes is compelling to watch, and he creates a sympathy for Arenas few other actors could manage. His narration of Arenas' poetry and prose is patient and soulful, adding much to the already gorgeous shots of rural and urban settings (the film employs archival footage from Cuba, but was filmed in Merida and Veracruz, Mexico, in the Yucatan, the region of Mexico closest to Cuba).

Because the film is based on a memoir, it proceeds episodically, following the young Arenas from his boyhood to his early accomplishments as a poet and novelist through his imprisonment and later his escape to the United States during Castro's 'purge' of undesirables in 1980 (the same means by which Tony Montana escapes Cuba in 'Scarface'), when criminals and homosexuals were invited to voluntarily expatriate to Miami so that the demand for basic resources in Cuba under the US-led embargo could be relieved somewhat. The film spends considerable time reflecting on Arenas' sexual initiation and his gay lifestyle, which is slightly problematic in that it suggests that Arenas was persecuted solely for being homosexual, which is at best a half-truth. Though Arenas himself was probably persecuted less for his lifestyle than for his public criticism of the regime, it is probably not inaccurate in its portrayal of the turn against art, life, and experimentation taken by Castro's brutal totalitarian ethos. In any case, Arenas ultimately makes his way to New York with his friend Lazaro (Olivier Martinez), where in 1987 he began to suffer symptoms of AIDS. He died in 1990, after which his memoir and several letters condemning Castro and the failure of the US to rescue the Cuban people from his tyranny were published, to wide acclaim.

The film should not be overly criticized for its historical errors and omissions, because it is primarily a showcase for Schnabel's artistry as a director and Bardem's astonishingly charismatic performance as Arenas. The film is also graced by fine performances by Martinez as Lazaro, who rebuffs Arenas' sexual advances but later becomes his dearest and most trusted friend; Johnny Depp in dual roles as a jail house transvestite who helps Arenas smuggle his manuscripts out to the world and as a sadistic prison guard; Sean Penn as a farmer who encounters the young Arenas on the road to Havana; and Michael Wincott as Herbet Z. Ochoa, a poet and essayist forced to publicly renounce his art by a Communist tribunal.
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10/10
Many praises for a movie about freedom and artistic expression
Preston-1010 February 2001
Before Night Falls is a brilliantly devised and executed account about the famed Cuban novelist Reinaldo Arenas. The film documents his childhood as a peasant, his support for Castro's rebels as an idealist youth, and as a man, his struggles, not just as an independent thinker but also as a gay man living in Communist Cuba. Throughout the film we respond to his hopes, fears, and claustrophobia as we witness the persecution of a true artist.

As a student of Latin American History and Literature I was pleased with the way the film handled the historical context of Arenas' time. The political context of Before Night Falls shouldn't come as any surprise. The artistic, social and political invisibility of gays in Cuba under the Cuban Revolution represented a dark stain on the revolutionary record. In 1965 Fidel Castro told Lee Lockwood (in Castro's Cuba, Cuba's Fidel) that `we would never come to believe that a homosexual could embody the conditions and requirements of conduct that would enable us to consider him a true Revolutionary, a true communist militant. A deviation of that nature clashes with the concept we have of what a militant Communist must be' In the mid-1960's, the infamous UMAP work camps (Unidades Militares de Auyuda a la Producción) sought to rehabilitate what they perceived as alleged antisocial elements. This is an event that is accurately depicted in Schnabel's film. The purges and denunciations of homosexuals continued into the 1980's. Today in Cuba discrimination against gays still represents a major problem. The revolution dealt with gender and racial discrimination but not with discrimination against gays. This is all documented with stunning use of archival footage and reference accounts from Arenas' autobiography.

Any review of the film would be incomplete without mentioning Javier Bardem's work. I have seen a lot of movies and few performances are even in the same league as Bardem's. I was fascinated with how he carried this film with a performance that must have been very difficult for him to adjust to. The supporting work by Johnny Depp should also be praised. His dual performance, for me, accurately identified how many within Castro's army may have used their positions as a front to deny their own sexuality as well. Overall, I was very impressed with this film and I highly recommend it
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7/10
Evocative film-making
Chris_Docker17 June 2001
Evocative and moving story based on the life of Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas. The film has excellent acting from Javier Bardem (and smaller but equally excellent performances from Johnny Depp and Sean Penn), wonderful scenery and, most of all, powerful and moving snippets from the work of a novelist whose poetic powers can inspire and lift above the poverty of life or bring emotional poignancy to the depths. This is set in a country where, under Castro's rule, there is no "upper class" - and yet where brutal intolerance can be shown to any 'misfits'. Arenas happens to be homosexual, which is unacceptable, and his poetry extols natural beauty (which is, it seems, seen as counter-revolutionary). The writer survives torture and imprisonment but his works survive and the success of his novels prove an inspiration to him as he survives in abject conditions. The film is a bit slow to start, and occasionally meandering, but overall it provides a powerful piece of cinema.
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9/10
A Lyrical Fight for Survival, without the Survival
secondtake30 May 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Before Night Falls (2000)

A Lyrical Fight for Survival, without the Survival

Filmed with such undistracting and unrelenting imagination, Before Night Falls is not only beautiful and seamless, it's a surprise, frame after frame. And it manages to keep flowing visually, with invention, without distracting from the personal plight of the central character, the writer Reinaldo Arenas. Add the full blooded performance by Javier Bardem, who is something of a one man show, and the movie is intrinsically special.

Julian Schnabel is turning out to be a better movie director than artist, maybe because his tendency toward formal invention made his art contrived while in the movie world this formalism is embedded with more evident meaning, and so it has something to support beyond its own effects. His subjects show a consistency that reveals an artistic devotion to himself, yes, as an auteur, or as a concerned person. Herzog might be another good example, offhand. From the flawed Basquiat to the compelling (and depressing) The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Schnabel digs into those people who are pushed to be exceptional. All three of these films, at least, are about individuals with enormous talent and resolve, but they are all three also driven by circumstance to be even greater than themselves, or to make themselves into something beyond what even they expected. All of Schnabel's films are artfully made without being indulgent--even the exaggerated special effects used in Diving Bell are necessary.

And all three of these examples end in affecting, very personal tragedy. After the Lou Reed concert film diversion (which I haven't seen), it'll be worth watching what this relative newcomer to the movies brings out next.
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10/10
In my top ten of all time.
The Love Dragon21 August 2001
BEFORE NIGHT FALLS, directed by Julian Schnabel is the best movie made since SCHINDLER'S LIST, and just might surpass it.

There is hardly anything I would change about this movie, it is in my mind as perfect as they could have made it. The only thing that could have been better was going deeper into Bardem's character, but I don't think that they really needed to, because like in OUT OF AFRICA, the character is not gone into very deeply, but the performance of Meryl Streep, or in this case Javier Bardem makes you feel like you know Arenas. The tiniest nuance is played out beautifully by Bardem, who had to learn Cuban Spanish and English with a cuban accent as well as gain a lot of weight, and probably hours of thought put into his performance.

The writing is amazing, going from one event to the other, more about the author and what happens around him than an actual basic plotline. The music is terrific and well chosen, and Burwell's original score is the best original music in film history. The cinematography is innovative and excellent, audiences have seen few examples of the photography used in this film.

And to top it all off, Julian Schanbel does a perfect job of directing, showing Arenas's life with a beautiful new narrative technique, while at the same time showing the contrast of the Revolution and it's events and the beautiful Cuban country. As in the memoir by Arenas, the film is seen through Arenas's eyes, and it is like the whole world is gay, in a sense, and it's fabulous. I also love how when showing the documentary footage, and Bardem read excerpts of Arenas's writing, it was spoken in Spanish, being true to the author's work, while the beautiful Burwell music played.

Granted, this film is not for everyone, in fact I expect ninety percent of people to detest it, but to me, it is an amazing movie that is one of the few to get a ten out of ten from myself.

Absolutely fabulous, but if you like a basic, clear plotline with rising events, climactic end, action, and humour that comes out as jokes and not just funny situations and such, you won't like it. In fact, as I said, I expect most people reading this not to like it, but to me, it may be in my top five, should've won best picture.
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8/10
A truly Fantastic performance by Javier Bardem
paulijcalderon1 September 2016
A film with strong and powerful moments. The movie uses some documentary footage and exposition about the revolution in Cuba and the problems that people went through, but the real story is about a writer and his struggle to find peace and recognition.

It took some time for me to get invested. It bothered me a bit because the movie is narrated by the writer and you see his life since he was young. So, you would expect you to be invested right away. But, for me it took some time in first act getting in to the story because here and there stock footage would pop up and it would take me out of it. Once the main character ends up being accused for something he didn't do, the film picks up and his journey becomes riveting.

I like the vintage look of this film, the colors makes it feel like the film was made in the 60's and 70's. Johnny Depp is funny playing two roles, but the actor stealing the show is Javier Bardem who is fantastic in this performance. The movie does a good job in making you understand his motives and ambitions. Even though I didn't care much about his relations, you still understand the fact that it's just how he is personally and he doesn't try to force you to like him. He just appears like himself and doesn't try to be someone he isn't. Which makes the audience respect him.

The scenes in a prison were really hard hitting, especially when he is forced to be in a tiny, tiny cell. That most be horrifying, and Bardem completely made you believe what kind of a traumatic affect it would have on someone. Brilliantly made.

In short, a fantastic performance all the way through (especially towards the finale), but the film is a bit unbalanced and some of the most interesting parts of the story pass by too soon. It stays a little too long on the writer's romantic life in the beginning, and unfortunately that aspect wasn't as compelling as I think the filmmakers were hoping it would be. Everything about the writers escape and the prison scenes are however great and I would still recommend checking it out.
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fascinating glimpse into Castro's Cuba
Buddy-5115 July 2001
Warning: Spoilers
***SPOILERS*** ***SPOILERS*** `Before Night Falls' is a compelling film that works on several different levels simultaneously: as a biography of the late Cuban poet and novelist Reinaldo Arenas; as a scathing indictment of Castro's repressive Communist regime; and as a celebration of the human spirit flourishing under even the most adverse of circumstances. What it doesn't quite do, though, is dig very deeply into the mind and spirit of its main character. We are fascinated by the atmosphere and events that define this life story. We just don't feel like we get to know very well the man at its core.

The film, which spans five decades (from 1943 - 1990), stars the brilliant Javier Bardem as Arenas, a homosexual writer caught in a culture openly hostile to both homosexuals and writers. One of the theses that the film posits - one taken directly from Arenas' writings - is that governmental repression often has the paradoxical effect of actually ENCOURAGING the very elements it is trying to stifle. Thus, for a while at least, Arenas is allowed to express fairly openly his homosexual nature. In fact, it is even pointed out to us that a number of high government officials are allowed to flagrantly display their sexuality with little or no consequences. Yet, at the same time, the government has set up concentration camps filled with gays and other political prisoners. But it is not so much for his sexuality that Arenas is eventually incarcerated and tortured - it simply provides a convenient excuse - but for his radical anti-Castro ideas as reflected in his poetry and novels. For it is ideas that most threaten any totalitarian regime, and Castro's is certainly no exception.

The movie is so ambitious in its scope and time frame that it occasionally loses us along the way. Every now and then we are not quite sure who is who, where we happen to be, or what exactly is happening in the story. This is partly the result of Julian Schnabel's rather impressionistic directorial style, providing us with quick cuts of imaginings and/or memories that flash through Arenas' mind. The problem is that we can't always tell which is a memory and which a mere fanciful vision. For instance, in one scene, a desperate Arenas, in an attempt to evade the authorities, sails out for Florida in nothing more than an old inner tube. The way the scene is shot we are led to believe, initially, that he has made it safely to America's shore, only to discover later that he is still on Cuba. It is a minor point, but the style often leaves us feeling unnecessarily disoriented at times.

On the other hand, the style also contributes a strangely dreamy, otherworldly feel to the film. This matches perfectly the rather exotic nature of Arenas himself, a man who seems to be torn between accepting his homosexuality and fighting the demons that come along with being a societal outcast. When Arenas finally makes it to the `land of freedom' as part of the Mariel boat lift of 1980, fate deals him another cruel blow in the form of AIDS. Yet, Arenas' words live on, a testament both to the cruelty and brutality of life under a dictatorship and to the strength of spirit reflected in any artist who tries to overcome it.

As Arenas, Barkem gives a riveting performance, going far beyond the subtle effeminate mannerisms that define the character's surface. Yet, strangely enough, even though the film runs well over two hours and there is almost no scene in which Arenas is not present, we never feel like we really get to know him very well. Perhaps it is because, in his romantic relationships, in particular, Arenas remains such an inscrutable enigma. Apart from his sexual orientation, we often can't tell what makes this character tick. This is why Barkem's performance is so indispensable to the film. The richness he provides in his every word, facial expression and gesture makes Arenas a very real and very recognizable figure. Without Barkem, `Before Night Falls' would be much less compelling than it is.

And the fact is, that for all its imperfections, `Before Night Falls' IS a very compelling film, in terms of style, performance, atmosphere and theme. Despite the dissatisfaction we may feel with the film at times, the truth is that the story itself is so gripping that our interest never flags for a moment. And if for no other reason than for the uncompromising glimpse it affords into the hitherto unexamined world of Castro's Cuba, the film cries out to be seen.
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**** 1/2 Stunning
Bil-327 March 2001
Gorgeous adaptation of Reinaldo Arenas' best-selling autobiography of the same name. Javier Bardem gives a towering performance as Arenas, the famous Cuban poet who found himself constantly in a state of being unwanted by the world around him, and yet still full of the ability to see the beauty in it. Using stock footage of Castro's military-ruled Cuba, a haunting score by Carter Burwell (with Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson), and many cameos by famous actors (Sean Penn being the only one that really misfires, Michael Wincott being an exceptionally good one), director Julian Schanbel has created one of the most touching, affecting and polished film works of the whole year. Johnny Depp stands out in a small role dressed completely in drag (and he's gorgeous!)
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8/10
A Bardem classic
lastliberal13 January 2008
Reinaldo Arenas: Leonardo da Vinci was homosexual, so was Michelangelo, Socrates, Shakespeare, and almost every other figure that has formed what we have come to understand as beauty.

It is fascinating that the socialist government in Cuba would take the same position as right-wing religious leaders in our country. I am sure that James Dobson, Pat Robertson, and others like them would not be happy to know that they are no different than Fidel Castro.

This was the story of the poet Reinaldo Arenas, his mistreatment at the hands of the Cuban government, and his eventual escape to America in the Mariel boat lift; and Javier Bardem (Mar adentro, No Country for Old Men) was magnificent in the role that played almost like a documentary. The film was cinema-graphically brilliant, filmed near Cuba in the Yucatan. The soundtrack was equally impressive.

Besides Bardem, it also featured Johnny Depp (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy). Depp played a dual role as Bon Bon, a transvestite and was also Lt. Victor, the head of the prison in which Arenas was incarcerated. I am continually amazed at Depp's versatility.

An outstanding Latino cast in a super film.
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Help the Host
tedg30 July 2002
Warning: Spoilers
Spoilers herein.

The subject here is a natural sensitive who finds a layer of beauty in unexpected cracks in reality. The harder the reality, and the more unexpected niches he makes, the more sweetly surprising are the nuggets he places.

But this is not a great writer, not someone who can compose. He is an artist of snippets.

Now along comes Schnable, a man of similar sensibilities. He is also a man with no patience for shaping the whole. He reacts locally. But he has lots of talented friends. So what we end up with is a pot luck. Overall it is respectful, and in places it has local beauty. I knew something of Schnable, so avoided this for a while: he has found a market for an artistic philosophy based on attention deficit disorder and that's just not good enough for me.

But this has Penn and Depp (Depp in two proximate roles) and any project with them is worth the investment. Depp smuggles the book out of prison in his rectum. If you know their own lives in art, you can see them presented here with no directorial filter whatsoever.

Two really annoying things: the two most beautiful gems in this film are shots of the water and a remarkable balloon trip. The former is stoled from Greenaway (`Water Wrackets') and the latter directly lifted from Tarkovsky (`Andre Rublev'). This is not simple quoting. This is not fair use of a vocabulary. This is theft and is indicative of the general lack of artistic vision in this project.

The DVD has a tour of Schnable's loft where he pontificates on his pieces of frozen performance art from a more confused and artistically hungry era: `Here is where I had tea with M- and slapped the teasoaked tablecloth against the canvas.' `Here is where I dragged the canvas behind a jeep.'

This is for the Hallmark set which thinks it is hip because its small proverbs center on revolution, gayness and aids.

Ted's Evaluation: 2 of 4 -- Has some interesting elements.
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8/10
An Outstanding Performance of Javier Bardem
claudio_carvalho22 June 2003
"Before Night Falls" is a good movie. However, the most important point to be highlighted is the outstanding performance of Javier Bardem, in the role of Reinaldo Arenas, a Cuban poet and writer. But unfortunately, the script and the direction were not in the same level of this great actor. The impression transmitted of Reinaldo Arenas in the movie is mostly of a gay artist, persecuted by a dictatorial regime not because of his ideas, but because of his behavior being gay. Even his death due to Aids is not clear in the movie. Maybe readers of this writer may find points in the script to be sympathetic with Reinaldo Arenas, but for an outsider of his biography and books, the plot does really show him as a homosexual writer persecuted by a dictatorial regime. The plan of the ideas is not emphasized in the movie. Javier Bardem deserved a better direction and script for such a performance! My vote is eight.

Title (Brazil): "Antes do Anoitecer" ("Before Night Falls")
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8/10
That Lonely Child of Always
wes-connors5 October 2008
Julian Schnabel's "Before Night Falls" initially impresses as an extraordinarily photographed film, by Xavier Perez Grobet and Guillermo Rosas; their use of color is especially beautiful. For someone unaware of the subject (as I was), the narrative is sometimes confusing. The film is a biography of Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas (1943-1990), who is played by Javier Bardem. Mr. Bardem's characterization is about as convincing as they come; he gradually "paints" his role into your viewing consciousness. And, he carries the story through some rough waters. His performance is definitive "Best Actor" material.

Also, watch out for Sean Penn, under hat and make-up, as he gives young Reinaldo a lift, after the boy leaves home. Later on, during a prison sequence, Johnny Depp essays a couple of amazing characterizations, as "Bon Bon" and "Lieutenant Victor"; Mr. Depp's acting, and his decisions regarding his successful career, are quite admirable. Handsome Andrea Di Stefano (as Pepe) and handsome Oliver Martinez (as Lazaro) are among Bardem's "Best Supporting" boyfriends. In sum, Mr. Schnabel, Bardem, and the photographers deserve accolades for this good nightfall.

Additionally, investigate writer Reinaldo Arenas (as I did): "I am that child of always / Before the panorama of imminent terror / Imminent leprosy, imminent fleas / Of offenses and the imminent crime / I am that repulsive child that improvises a bed / Out of an old cardboard box and waits / Certain that you will accompany me…"

******** Before Night Falls (2000) Julian Schnabel ~ Javier Bardem, Oliver Martinez, Johnny Depp
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6/10
Bardem Is Great, But Film Itself Left Me in the Cold
evanston_dad13 July 2010
It wasn't until "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" that I warmed to the work of Julian Schnabel. Before that there was "Basquiat," which I actively disliked, and then there was "Before Night Falls," which I didn't dislike exactly, but which I also didn't exactly enjoy.

No complaints about the performance of Javier Bardem, before anyone knew who he was, as Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas. But the film plays out as so many other biopics do, and it's pretty bleakly depressing by the time it's over. The final scenes, as we watch Arenas slowly disintegrate due to AIDS, are especially tough.

You might need to be a fan either of Schnabel the director or Arenas the poet to fully appreciate this movie. It wouldn't surprise me if everyone else felt somewhat left out in the cold by it.

Grade: B-
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8/10
Excellent Film, Needed More Editing
cleish4 May 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Spanish-born actor Javier Bardem gives a staggering performance as Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas in Julian Schnabel's "Before Night Falls" is based on Reinaldo Arenas' memoir and relates his imprisonment in Cuba and subsequent exodus to the United States. Born a peasant in the 1943, Arenas had the great misfortune of being a gay writer in a country that considered art and homosexuality to be counter-revolutionary. After almost fifteen years of living in both jail and freedom, Arenas was eventually sent to America in 1981 as a part of the Mariel boat lift which later became infamous for being made up of several psychotics and habitual criminals. Ten years later, at the age of 47, Arenas dies of AIDS.

Fidel Castro sparked a revolution against Batista in the 1950's. By 1959, Castro was basically in full power of Cuba and controlled the country with the Communist party under his dictatorship. The country soon became a total authoritarian state and civil liberties were disregarded. Youths rebelled against this, with song, with poetry, and soon became a distinctive development in Cuban music and culture. Anyone who did not follow orders from Castro's army, or who did not live the "normal" lifestyle, set down by Castro, were sent to camps to be re-educated. Reinaldo Arenas was one of these rebels.

The beautiful cinematography was joined with an amazing cast of international stars, including dual roles by a hysterically memorable Johnny Depp ("Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Finding Neverland"), Sean Penn ("I Am Sam" and "Mystic River"), who convincingly played a Cuban, Michael Wincott ("Along Came a Spider"), and Olivier Martinez ("Unfaithful") as Arenas' platonic best friend. Bardem's acting ability does a beautiful job at holding together a movie that at times seems very disjointed and long-winded. Schnabel seems to have tried to film the movie to fit the feeling and fluidity of Arenas' poetry, but succeeded in making a beautifully visual film that needs a little more editing for the final cut. Nevertheless, Schnabel does a very good job in telling the life of a 47-year-old man in only 130 minutes, and successfully painted the picture depicting the influences of Arenas' writing. The language choices made the movie a bit confusing, as the actors spoke English with Cuban accents so heavy that it was hard to understand what was being said. It was equally annoying when characters would start speaking Spanish in the middle of a scene with no subtitles to aid the viewer. It is no surprise that Bardem was nominated at the Oscars for Best Actor.

This movie is no masterpiece, but is definitely worth seeing, especially if interested in post-WWII Cuba. It provides an interesting look into the Communist politics that deal with homosexuality in the past recent decades. The scenery and music transport the viewer to another world, and Bardem does an equally impressive job in making the story feel real.

8 stars out of 10.
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The short life and times of Reinaldo Arenas.
scrutiny15 December 2000
Julian Schnabel's second effort after his masterful Basquiat is another portrait of a fallen artist struck down in his prime but instead of the world of art, we journey into the realm of literature. Reinaldo Arenas is mostly unheard of in this country but this film's greatest asset will be to encourage people to seek out his work in order to, on some tangential level, gain access to the man. As with his earlier effort, Schnabel mixes his painterly past with the auspices of the biopic to create one of the most fascinating portraits of a writer put to film. I was privileged to see this film during the last New York Film Festival and this film although linear in telling, following Reinaldo from practically cradle to grave, we are presented with expressionistic episodes of his life as he becomes initiated to sex, finds his calling when he proves adept at writing, and his most important and ironically fatal decision to engage in homosexual liaisons at a time and place where the practice was looked down upon and ultimately his work and life suffered for it. Never demeaning or lurid, Reinaldo's life is looked upon with a untarnished and honest eye where his rich prose overcame his meager surroundings. A remarkable achievement on every level from the use of archival footage integrated into the narrative to the use of an up to the minute soundtrack (the beautiful Lou Reed/Laurie Anderson cello track `Rouge' during a Cuban club scene) in a period piece, Before Night Falls is one of the best films of the year.
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A potentially great film hamstrung by several poor choices
Shiva-1111 February 2001
People's revolutions begin with the best of intentions, such as removing unjust rulers, but often have an unfortunate tendency to go awry, exchanging one dictator for another. Cuba is an excellent example of this axiom: in 1959, a small band of revolutionaries led by a young lawyer named Fidel Castro ousted Fulgencio Batista, the US backed dictator. Castro would have been welcomed with open arms by the US, had he not embarked on a campaign of nationalization, which led to Cuba's regional isolation and eventual alliance with the Soviet Union. In keeping with communist doctrine, Castro the liberator became Castro the jailer and began purging the freethinkers and anyone who was "different". If you happened to be a gay author and poet, yours was a dismal future indeed.

Reinaldo Arenas grew up poor and free, enjoying the liberation that only a child of the land can experience. His carefree world was shattered when a teacher discovered the boy's artistic bent, and communicated this to Reinaldo's grandfather. His reaction was to banish the boy and run away to the city. Undaunted, Reinaldo continued to nourish his talents and in the newfound post-revolution euphoria explored his sexuality. His ideas and sexual persuasion soon attracted the unwanted attention of an increasingly repressive regime, which would ultimately lead to his internment, re-education and exile.

For the second time in as many months, I find myself having a hard time reviewing a movie. According to the trade journals, "Before Night Falls" made fifty film critics' top ten lists (not a difficult feat given the dearth of decent films in 2000), has won numerous awards and is "one of the best films ever made". In light of these rave reviews, I keep asking myself one question - "Did I miss something?"

Spanish actor Javier Bardem ("Jamon Jamon") who infuses his portrayal with the appropriate emotional sensitivity and resolve brings Arenas to life. For Arenas, being forbidden to write was akin to being forbidden to breathe, he could not and would not cease his writing, even if it meant imprisonment and torture in a Cuban gulag. Like his passion for writingis sexuality, it was again not a matter of choice, which Bardem makes very clear. Johnny Depp adds another interesting character, or more appropriately characters, to his pantheon of performances in a dual role as a talented transvestite and a brutal military commander. His characters emphasize the duality of relationships in police states, where your best friend may be an informant and you trust no one (as many horrified East Germans discovered in post-wall Germany). Equally impressive was Andrea Di Stefano as Pepe, Reinaldo's part-time lover and all around bad influence. The technical aspects of the film are more ambiguous. Director Julian Schnabel's decision to splice in grainy film footage from post revolutionary Cuba was as bold as it was ingenious. The scenes, which contain little dialogue, contribute a tangible realism to the film, and convey the initial jubilation and eventual stifling repression of the newly "liberated" country. Music is also used very effectively to establish mood, with some surprising non-Latin choices- Lou Reed's "Rouge" substitutes for dialogue in a nightclub scene, and speaks more about betrayal than any words could. I do however, have several reservations about the film.

At times, the direction and editing is erratic. This in turn disrupts the continuity of the film and makes several scenes difficult to follow. For example, while I realize that the film is about an author and poet, the inclusion of his poems is done haphazardly and serves little purpose. More importantly, while the poems are read in Spanish, the bulk of the dialogue is in English. This wouldn't normally be a concern, except that, several of the cast members have very thick accents and do not speak English well. It would have made more sense to have Spanish dialogue throughout and use English subtitles. As it was, I regularly had to strain to understand portions of dialogue and almost missed several key elements.

Schnabel's film paints a beautiful and sometimes-ugly picture of one man's constant struggle against state-sponsored repression and discrimination. The story is especially poignant when you remember that events unfolding before you are true. In spite of excellent performances, and interesting direction choices, the directing is also inconsistent at times and several poor editing choices cause the film to drag in places. "Before Night Falls" is a very good film that should have been great.
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Grade: A-
tideprince22 December 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Javier Bardem gives a quietly powerful performance in this, the life story of Cuban novelist, poet, and exile Reinaldo Arenas, who died of AIDS in New York in 1990.

Arenas was born, like most Cubans, in abject poverty in 1943. He lived with his grandparents until Castro's revolution came (the cinematography in this section of the film is particularly breathtaking); then he went off to fight with the rebels. With Castro in power, Arenas grows up to become a novelist and poet. He publishes his first novel and becomes something of a young author on the rise.

And then Castro starts cracking down on homosexuality.

A little-known fact about Castro's government is his complete lack of tolerance for homosexuality. Concentration camps are set up on distant parts of the island, and Arenas finds that his friends are disappearing, being swept off of the streets or beaches by Castro's secret police. Arenas himself is being watched. He manages to write another novel and have it smuggled out to be published in foreign countries, and is jailed for his efforts. In prison, Arenas continues to write and to see that his work is delivered to people that can publish it. No matter what Castro's people do to him, no matter how they treat him, no matter what threats they make, there are two things about Arenas that remain constant: his art and his sexuality.

When Arenas is released from prison, he desperately wants to escape Cuba so he can write and live in whatever way he chooses. The last part of the film is primarily concerned with Arenas' escape attempts. It's no secret that Arenas got away; he died in New York City, not in Havana. It's what his life becomes after his escape that's supposed to be interesting.

You can rack up another name on the list of people who got screwed at the Oscars by the hopelessly mediocre, bizarrely beloved "Gladiator" in 2000. Javier Bardem's performance in this film was easily and without doubt the best of the year. He holds the audience's attention with such grace and he makes it look so easy - it's the kind of performance that should be burned into the minds of everyone who loves film.

If you look closely, you'll catch an unrecognizable Sean Penn in a blink-and-you-miss-him cameo that actually ranks among his most unusual screen moments. Johnny Depp also puts in a brief appearance, as a drag queen in prison and, in an exceptional one-on-one scene with Bardem, as the prison's sadistic warden.

Bardem's performance is supported by well-captured images of Castro's Cuba. The cinematography stands out here almost as much as Bardem's performance does. Director Julian Schnabel keeps the action compelling, moving things along at the pace you'd expect from a biopic - until the last twenty minutes or so of the film, when he inexplicably slows the pace to a crawl. Once Arenas leaves Cuba, all the momentum of the movie seems to just stop. Even Bardem, so fascinating for almost two hours, nearly becomes uninteresting in the last part of the movie.

It's a small price to pay for two hours of excellence, however.
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Episodic Is Right
harry-764 April 2003
There's no doubt that Julian Schnabel knew exactly what he was doing and what he wanted in making this semi-bio on Cuban poet-novelist Reinado Arenas ('43-'90).

Trouble is, how interesting a film is it? Clocking in at 133 minutes, it's a long time to wade through so much flabby footage to get to the good material.

In a most meandering manner, the film mixes fact with fiction, and contains equally engrossing and tedious episodes. Often actors take too long to react to too little. Then again, the screen is filled with some compelling scenes, which make impressive statements.

Like his "Basquiat," made four years earlier, Schnabel doesn't seem to be able to create a consistently viable product with a sense of directorial energy, timing, or structure.

On the plus side is Javier Bardem's well executed lead performance. Almost unrecognizable American actors Sean Penn as Cuco Sanchez and Johnny Depp as a striking Bon Bon and slimy Lt. Victor also equip themselves extremely well.

But it's Schnabel whose at the helm here. This self-proclaimed neo expressionist "lion of New York art world" painter-art director-writer-director is a bona fide talent. What seems in order is for someone to shape and direct that talent into something with more pertinence and drive.

"Antes que anochezca" does have its followers, however, and they can continue to support Schnabel's esoteric art house film career.
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5/10
Dare I Say ...
Theo Robertson23 August 2005
... That this film will appeal far more to a gay audience than a mainstream one ?

BEFORE NIGHT FALLS follows the life story of Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas who was a homosexual and thus was persecuted by Castro's regime . It's actually nice to see a movie pointing out that when it comes to homosexuality socialist regimes are no more tolerant than fascist ones or countries ruled by religious fundamentalists but the point about Reinaldo being oppressed by the state due to his sexual orientation seems hammered home too often where we see scenes of suspected homosexuals being rounded up . Toleterian regimes do not tolerate any type of art unless it's sanctioned by the party . Couldn't we have learned more about Reinaldo's poetry and how this was seen as a threat to the regime ? It would have probably made for a better story

Many people have praised the performance of Spanish actor Javier Bardem as Reinaldo . I've never heard of Bardem before seeing this movie and have no idea of how difficult it is for a Spanaird to play a Cuban but I'll take everyone's word that this is a great performance . I didn't even realise that Johnny Depp played two roles in this movie but I was swept away by his role as the interrogator , so much so that I forgot it was a famous Hollywood star acting and I can't fault the performances in the movie

But apart from the over emphasis on the homosexual aspects I do have a problem with the script and directing . The story is fairly episodic and disjointed and there's scenes that I didn't understand . For example Reinaldo just manages to walk out of prison which I found a bit too incredible to be taken seriously and while he's on the run he writes letters to the UN and International Red Cross - And leaves them hidden under stones ! So if a dissident is on the run in any country in the world if he leaves a message begging for help under a stone an international organisation will find it and take up his case . I didn't get that bit and there's a couple of other scenes like this which confused rather than involved me in the story
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1/10
Confusing, pointless, and ultimately boring
dwr24619 April 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I've no doubt that the story of Reynaldo Arenas could have made an interesting film, but no one involved in the production of this offering seems to have had a clue as to how to go about telling the story in an interesting way. Consequently, we're left with a tedious mess of a film that rambles on for too long, and often seems to forget whatever point it was trying to make.

The plot is taken straight out of Arenas' book Before Night Falls, and follows Arenas from childhood, where his teacher notices his writing abilities, through his joining up with Castro's rebels, his days in college, and his adulthood spent being persecuted, and ultimately imprisoned for his homosexuality. Eventually, he escapes to New York City, only to contract AIDS, and be smothered to death by his friend.

It's not an uplifting story to begin with, but much could be done with the telling to make it satisfying, as is the case with films like Sophie's Choice. Instead, we get a confusing muddle where fantasy and reality are intertwined to the point where you can't tell which is which. Characters are not well developed, even Arenas is still something of a cipher by the end of the film, and the supporting players are not given any depth at all. Apparently, the writers thought the story would tell itself, and therefore do nothing to help it along. The end result is a script which fails to engage the viewer.

Likewise the acting is equally stilted. While visually pleasing, Javier Bardem does nothing to make Arenas an appealing, or even interesting, character. The supporting players do little to differentiate themselves, so it is often hard to remember who is who, and who they are in relation to Arenas. Sean Penn's cameo was horrible, with an embarrassingly bad Spanish accent. And while Johnny Depp plays his parts with gusto, they do little to add much to a film that was already a lost cause by the time he appears on the screen.

A person's life story could make a very interesting film, particularly when the person has had as much adversity to overcome as Reynaldo Arenas. Unfortunately, this offering does little to draw you into the story, settling instead for a confusing sequence of facts, which ultimately goes on for way too long. Hardly worth sitting through the first time, much less viewing again.
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