Runtime: 2 Hours
and 13 Minutes
Before Night Falls is the story of a man who overcomes
seemingly insurmountable odds only to find the life he has found may
not have been worth the effort it took to get there.
Reinaldo Arenas (Javier Bardem) was born in Cuba in 1943 to a single
mother and a fatherless existence. The home of his youth was overrun
with women and a single man, who served only to uproot Reinaldos
life when it was discovered that the young boy had a gift for the
written word, by moving them all far away and choosing to no longer
to speak to any of them. As he grew older Reinaldo began to experiment
in finding his place in life, whether it be his sexuality (homosexual),
or his occupation (writer). Before long he gains a job at the National
Library and takes honorable mention in a writing contest.
Just when everything looks to be going well for Reinaldo, Castros
regime takes power and puts measures into place designed to snuff
out the undesirable elements of society, as seen through their eyes.
This meant that homosexuals, writers of propaganda, the mentally retarded,
and anyone else who didnt fall into line with Castros
ideology were to be sent to concentration camps to be sequestered
from society. This would make for a life of exile for the talented
young Cuban novelist, both because of his sexual persuasion and his
manipulation of the written word.
The journey of Reinaldo Arenas is a difficult and powerful film to
watch for reasons of subject matter and presentation. The subject
matter (particularly the homosexual aspects of Reinaldos life)
is dealt with in such an unflinching manner that it is hard not to
feel uncomfortable at first. For many of us, it is a world we have
not seen and quite likely would never see if it were not for films
To add to the discomfort is the manner in which the film is photographed.
It has the feel of a documentary, as it looks at the periods of Reinaldos
life in the form of chapters. There is a rugged feel to the presentation
that makes the world come alive and makes the drama being witnessed
on the screen all the more impactful.
The true force that guides this film is the powerhouse performance
by Javier Bardem in the role of Reinaldo Arenas. To say that the man
is mesmerizing is to make a great understatement. He masters a complex
role and makes it his own. I had never known of Reinaldo Arenas before
watching this film, but after spending two hours with Javier Bardems
interpretation of his life, I feel as if I have known the man for
many years. Definitely one of the most powerful performances I have
seen in recent years and most assuredly among the best performances
of 2000 by a male lead.
As I have outlined above, Before Night Falls is not an
easy film to watch, but it has its rewards to offer. Julian Schnabels
steady direction, meaningful cameo appearances by Johnny Depp (Not
one, but two roles!), Sean Penn (hard to spot), and Michael "Guy
of Gisborne" Wincott, and last but not least, Javier Bardems
painstakingly haunting performance as Reinaldo Arenas are all worthy
reasons to make this film part of your viewing diet if you can stomach