|Before Night Falls
BEFORE NIGHT FALLS, the second feature film directed by Julian
Schnabel marks a giant leap in his development as a movie maker. By offering
this terrific nontraditional biopic of gay Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas filtered
partially through the writer's art, Schnabel doesn't allow the movie to become
bogged down in the "facts" so much as it evokes the spirit of the man. The
overall results are visually and dramatically amazing.
Schnabel cowrote the screenplay with Arenas' friend Lazaro Gomez
Carriles, and they have more or less divided BEFORE NIGHT FALLS into four
sections, each with its own distinct palette. They begin with scenes of Arenas'
childhood (where the teenage incarnation of the writer is played by the director's
son Vito Maria Schnabel) which are filled with verdant mountains and bright
sunshine. Despite a life of poverty and surrounded by women, Reinaldo proves
interested in literature and writing.
The second section is dominated by the pastels of Havana and traces the
meteoric rise of the college age Arenas (portrayed by Javier Bardem in a
well-deserved Oscar nominated turn). The writer revels as much in the sexually
liberated times of pre-Revolutionary Cuba as in his literary accomplishments.
Gradually though, as Fidel Castro solidifies his power and cracks down on
homosexuals and intellectuals, the colors darken until they take on a hellish
tinge which coincide with Reinaldo's imprisonment.
By the time Arenas has arrived in Manhattan via the Mariel boat lift
(after a stop in Miami which is omitted from the film), nearly all the color
has been drained from the screen. New York City is dull and gray and Arenas'
struggle to assimilate into a culture that doesn't prize freedom in quite the
same way as he sees it turns heartbreaking as he contracts AIDS and eventually
resolves to end his life with the assistance of his longtime pal Gomez Carriles
(nicely essayed by Olivier Martinez).
BEFORE NIGHT FALLS is a hallucinatory look at the life of a potently
talented individual who dreamed of liberty. The cast is uniformly terrific, with
Bardem appropriately dominating the film. Contributing cameos are a virtually
unrecognizable Sean Penn and film directors Jerzy Skolimowski and Hector
Babenco. Johnny Depp appears to have relished the opportunity to play the
dual roles of a drag queen with an unusual capacity for smuggling and a
martinet officer who forces Arenas to sign a statement repudiating his fiction.
Andrea Di Stefano also makes an impression as Pepe, a Judas-like bisexual
"friend" of the author's.
Thanks to Schnabel's visual sense and his unconfined but sharp direction
coupled with Bardem's stunning performance, BEFORE NIGHT FALLS
poignantly captures the essence of Reinaldo Arenas and introduces a new
audience to the artist and his work.
|© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.