Before Night Falls (2001)
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Review Date: February 27, 2001
Director: Julian Schnabel
Writer: Julian Schnabel, Lazaro Gomez Carriles, Cunningham O'Keefe
Producers: Jon Kilik
Javier Bardem
Olivier Martinez
Andrea DiStefano
The life and times of Cuban poet/novelist Reinaldo Arenas, during the revolution, and afterwards, as his homosexuality and art clash with the government's oppressive regime.
Not my cup o' tea. I was expecting to learn something from this movie. It's obviously not a film that was made to "entertain", but one which I believed would hopefully give me some more insight into the plight of Cubans back in the day, some further insight into the life and times of poet/novelist Reinaldo Arenas, and an all-out gangbusters performance from lead, Javier Bardem (nominated for an Oscar for this role). Unfortunately, none of my expectations were fulfilled. In fact, here's an example of one of the things which simply didn't work for me in this film. You know how when you read a poem, you don't really understand its full meaning right away, so you bask, simmer on it a bit, reflect and then read it again to see where it's all coming from? Well, this film actually inserts bits of Arenas' poetry throughout, but the words don't really say much since they're generally spoken over several shots. I mean, you sit there, one, trying to decipher exactly what it is that Javier is pronouncing, since his accent is pretty incomprehensible at times, and two, what exactly those words mean in the context of what is going on in the movie. Of course, the movie doesn't really give you much time to reflect upon any of these words, since the story is moving on, and the moments, well...ultimately fall flat.

The story also wasn't very clear to begin with, and maybe this had to do with the fact that I knew little about this man or the Cuban revolution beforehand (although I doubt it), but can someone please explain to me how Johnny Depp's character can be both a general in their army and a cross-dressing man who helps some of the inmates out at the same time? (without anybody noticing!) And how did Reinaldo finally get out of jail? (another unclear scenario) And why did all of his boyfriends look so similar? I could hardly tell them apart! And the length of the movie just added to the general, yes, "boredom" of it all. Over two hours, and not much new or interesting to say within. In fact, if it wasn't for the directing, which was top-notch, I wouldn't have anything good to say about this film (granted, it all looked pretty authentic as well). Bardem's performance? So-so, but honestly nothing to crow about. In fact, his voice-overs were particularly hard to understand. And his character's arc, not all that impressive either. The stuff in Cuba, I pretty much already knew about (Cuba bad, no likey freedom of expression and such), and the stuff in the States was just too drawn-out and confusing...again.

Of course, this movie isn't supposed to be appreciated by the "general" audience anyway. It's got that certain "art-house" feel about it and been highly praised my many among that group. Personally, it did nothing for me! In fact, it seemed to exude more energy into its pretenses than the actual story. So can you tell that I didn't like this movie? Listen, I don't mind a good artsy-fartsy flick every now and again either, but this one just didn't offer me much to work with. Very little empathy for its lead character, very little actual story-telling and lotsa poetry fluttering about like a rose broken upon the concrete blocks that bear the breasts of the world inside the cynicism which destroys its flowers upon creation. Yeah, whatever! A pretty big bore. BTW, can anyone please tell me why Sean Penn shows up for 30 seconds as a Cuban horse-carriage driver, says a few words and leaves? (other than so that we could point to the screen and say "Hey look, it's Sean Penn in heavy makeup!"). Pass!
(c) 2018 Berge Garabedian

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