Before Night Falls (2000)

BEFORE NIGHT FALLS, probably the most "never heard of it" of the re-
cently announced Oscar nominees (Javier Bardem, Best Actor), is an 
epic-flavored, dreamy-textured, and jungle-vivid bio pic slash not-
so-gay gay romp about acclaimed (and later exiled) Cuban writer Re-
inaldo Arenas and his artistic *and* sexual struggles during and af-
ter the Castro Revolution.  ('Twas more than just a *political* rev-
olution, notes the gay novelist on the seeming explosion of male ho-
mosexuality.)  The 133-minute film covers a fair amount of biograph-
ical ground, from Arenas' early childhood to his dying days in New 
York City.  (He died of AIDS at age 47.)  It isn't the easiest story 
to follow, however.  Bardem's thick accent, at least to the untrain-
ed ear, hinders both is dialogue and incidental narration.  More of 
a problem is the disjointed style of director Julian Schnabel (BAS-
QUAIT).  He's a snatch-shower, not a tale-teller, so his narrative 
is closer to the *impression* of a story, instead of the story it-
self.  (It doesn't help, either, than the script-- co-written by 
Schanbel-- doesn't flesh out a single supporting character.  Not 
that I caught...)  No, not a *literally* comprehensible movie, but 
still one hundred-percent compelling.  For Bardem's inobtrusive com-
mand performance.  For the vibrant, vivid glimpses into Arenas' Cuba.  
And for a later, gut-punching descent into censorship and other op-
pressive Cuban crackdowns.  Like the violent raids we're shown.  Or 
the homosexual "concentration camps" we're told of.  Or, perhaps the 
most grim of all, a librarian's early words to the wide-eyed, aspir-
ing literati:  "People that make art are dangerous to any dictator-
ship."  He continues, "beauty is the enemy" and "artists are escap-
ists."  Ergo, "counterrevolutionaries."  Phew.  And thank God for 
"democracy."  With a bunch of unfamiliar faces and a couple capital-
ist American pig movie stars, including a well-disguised Sean Penn 
in cameo, and a dual role-playing Johnny Depp, one of which is as a 
hip-shaking, wig-wearing, Cuban imprisoned cross-dresser.  My good-
ness he makes a pretty girl!  (Rated "R"/133 min.)

Grade: B
Copyright 2001 by Michael J. Legeros
Movie Hell is a trademark of Michael J. Legeros

Originally posted to triangle.movies as MOVIE HELL: Dangerous Beauty

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Copyright 2001 by Michael J. Legeros -Movie Hell™ is a trademark of Michael J. Legeros