Directed by Julian Schnabel, starring Javier Bardem, Olivier Martinez, Andrea Di Stefano, Johnny Depp and Sean Penn
Taken from the title of his memoir, 'Before Night Falls' is the moving story of Reinaldo Arenas (Javier Bardem), a Cuban born writer. It pulls no punches in documenting the life of a gifted homosexual writer struggling under a Castro-led regime that does not tolerate deviation from the ideal citizenship.
The story begins with Arenas' rural, fatherless childhood and his grandfather's suppression of his writing. As a sanguine teen, his writing flourishes amidst the poverty of his surroundings, and he joins Castro's insurgency to overthrow Batista. The new Cuba pulses with possibility and Reinaldo blossoms as a writer and explores his sexuality avariciously. Despite an initial period of glasnost, suspicion and paranoia soon surface. A draconian persecution policy is adopted, rooting out potential subversives, notably writers and homosexuals, who are sent en masse to labour camps.
Despite the threat to his life, Reinaldo continues to write, attracting constant police harassment, confiscation of his work and threats to his friends. After a false accusation of molestation, he is imprisoned in the notorious El Morro prison alongside murderers and rapists. In return for pens, papers and cigarettes, he composes ardent letters to wives on behalf of his fellow inmates during his two-year incarceration. Refusing to renounce his work, he avails of Castro's boat-lift policy (which allowed criminals, homosexuals and mental patients to flee to the United States) and heads for New York. His appetite for writing continues in exile until his loses his battle with Aids in 1990 age 47.
The film is shot episodically but has a tender unity to it, never veering into sentimentality. Arenas' harrowing experiences are juggled with his vibrant lust for life and ceaseless determination to be true to himself. Beautifully shot, the attention to detail is captivating and old footage of life in Reinaldo's Cuba adds a sinister authenticity to his story. While the film peaks a little too soon and loses momentum at the end, it is a harrowing portrait of one man's struggle against oppression. Javier Bardem is outstanding as the sensitive writer who was a victim of one of the bleakest chapters in Cuban history.