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American painter Julian Schnabel, who at the end of the 1990s partially moved to the world of film with a biographical drama about his colleague Basquiat, and won the grand prize of the festival jury at the Venice festival with a biographical drama about the Cuban writer and dissident Reinaldo Arenas. The role of Arenas not only brought Spanish actor Javier Bardem his first Oscar nomination, but it was also the role that secured his breakthrough on the international film scene. “Before the Night Falls” was filmed based on the autobiography of the poet and fierce critic of Fidel Castro’s regime, whose works were banned in the country, and he spent a lot of time in prison due to “ideological deviations” and open homosexuality.

So even though Schnabel opted for a linear performance of Arenas’ life story, “Before the Night Falls” is a poetic and stylized film, visually attractive, almost impressionistic and fragmentary. We follow Arenas’s life since childhood, but from the beginning it seems as if reality, fiction and those childhood memories are mixed, for which it is not clear if they really happened or if they are a figment of imagination or something in between. From the moment when his mother returned to the countryside with him while he was still in her womb from Havana after her husband left her, moving to the city of Holguin as a boy and joining the guerrillas when he was 14 years old. From a very quick disillusionment with the revolutionary struggle and what started to happen when Fidel Castro and his team took over power, to the episode when his grandfather beat him like an ox in a cabbage patch when he revealed to him that his teacher had told him he had a gift for poetry .

And that moment will almost mark Arenas’ life because his gift for writing and desire to express himself and write will not bring him anything good in communist Cuba, and the fact that he is gay will not help him either. So even though “Before the Night Falls” is based on Arenas’ text and the writer’s view of his life, Schnabel complemented all of that with his vision of Cuba. With numerous frames and sequences that seem to be located halfway between sleep and waking life, the film is about one man’s stubbornness and inability to adapt. If Arenas had been at least a little bit ready for conformity, he probably would have done very well in communist Cuba, but he seems to have decided to further complicate the situation for himself and turn his life into hell.

He constantly provoked, almost masochistically challenged the government, well aware of what would happen to him. And he is not portrayed as some kind of hero and fighter for the rights of the oppressed, this time the homosexual population, which, if we are to believe not only this film, but also Arenas’s writings, Cuba was obviously full of people. Arenas is presented there almost as a walking contradiction, a guy simply unable to adapt who didn’t have a much happier life even when he finally managed to defect to the US. Two episodic roles played by Johnny Depp were also noted, especially that of an eccentric transvestite who had the ability to smuggle whatever he needed in his backside out of and into prison, which is how one of Arenas’s books, later published abroad, allegedly got out. was banned in Cuba.