Synopsis by Michael Hastings
For his sophomore feature film effort, visual artist Julian Schnabel chronicles the life of one of Cuba's most charismatic literary voices, the late Reinaldo Arenas. Working with Arenas' friends and family, Schnabel recounts the author's impoverished rural upbringing and the intense love and support he receives from his mother (played by the director's wife, Olatz Lopez Garmendia). As a young man, Arenas (Javier Bardem) is singled out by his teachers and encouraged to further his skills as a writer -- no easy task, considering the Castro regime's censorship of any work considered to be subversive or anti-authoritarian. Still, the author manages to smuggle his work out of the country through friends, who arrange for one of his novels to be published in France. Not only persecuted for his creative beliefs, the openly gay Arenas is jailed on a bogus sex charge; he escapes internment only to be captured and persecuted later for his contraband dispatches. In 1980, Arenas is finally allowed to leave Cuba for the United States, where he achieves freedom of expression but not prosperity. Schnabel's first film was another portrait of an artist, 1996's Basquiat; Bardem made his name in several of director Pedro Almodovar's Spanish-language productions. Before Night Falls premiered at the 2000 Venice Film Festival, where it received the Best Actor and Grand Special Jury prizes, and made its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. Bardem would go on to receive a host of accolades, including an eventual Best Actor nomination at the 2001 Academy Awards.
AIDS, Cuba, exile, freedom, HIV, homosexual, illegal-alien, prison, revolution, writer
High Artistic Quality, High Production Values