Henning Molbaek's picture

"Before Night Falls" is a dramatic story about the life of Reinaldo Arenas, a homosexual novelist from Cuba. While compelling, dramatic, and an all-around good watch, the movie concentrates mainly on his persecution for being gay rather than for his writing.

Arenas was born into absolute poverty in pre-revolution Cuba. As with most South American countries, Cuba was a place of extremes--extreme wealth and extreme poverty. There was little, if any, middle class. Arenas came from one of those extremes. Early on, Arenas showed an interest in and a talent for writing. He impressed his teachers but not his father. Arenas' father did not want this talent developed, as he was afraid that it would keep his son from becoming a "man."

As a young man, Arenas joined the revolutionaries and fought for Castro. Afterwards, a new awakening takes place in Cuba, and the people who fought for change began to enjoy their new freedoms and opportunities. Homosexuals, artists, writers, and others were openly showing and developing themselves. Arenas even won second place in a writing competition. Of course, it was politics that kept him from winning the prize, but the contest got his work noticed by somebody who was in a position to get him published. However, real changes began before more than one of his novels could be published.

The new Cuban government began to ostracize (read: imprison) those who did not fit the mold of the society they were creating. This included homosexuals as well as certain writers, poets, musicians, etc. Basically, anyone who dared to write or think anything "counterrevolutionary" found themselves in trouble with the Castro regime. There's a scene in the movie where some fans of Arenas' first book are visiting Cuba from France, and they agree to sneak his second novel out of Cuba. Arenas is arrested for being gay. He escapes, and he goes into hiding. Eventually, he is found and goes to prison again.

The most undeveloped part of the movie takes place in prison. Arenas is put in prison for being gay. And a rapist. And a murderer. And worst of all, a CIA agent. Among the real murderers and rapist, Arenas becomes famous for what he does best: writing. The prisoners do not know how to write, and Arenas becomes wealthy writing letters for them.

In one of the most beautiful moments of this story, of which we only get a fleeting glimpse, Arenas' writing ability turns these hardened, evil criminals into little boys; a unison of hopeful, happy people who develop a ‘mail' system in hopes of being able to send letters to their loved ones. Although the outside world appreciates Arenas' ability to write, the inmates simply appreciate his ability to write. Through payment of his work, he is able to get enough paper and pencils to write another novel. This must have been quite a story in and of itself. Unfortunately, only a few minutes are spent on it.

Very good transfer to DVD. While there are no special effects to "wow" the audience, cinematography runs rampant in this film. The DVD clarity and quality keeps these telling images true to form. While it was not perfect, there are some scenes that are grainier than they should be, but all in all, the moods are kept intact.

Very good and clear audio. Both English and Spanish 5.1 surround is available. Much of the tone of the scenes is set by the musical score. It is wonderfully done, and anyone with an appreciation of musical score will be impressed.

The DVD has a nice assortment of extras. A commentary with Director Julian Schnabel, Actor Javier Bardem (Arenas), Screenwriter Lazaro Gomez-Carrilas, Composer Carter Burwell and Co-Director of Photography Xavier Perez Grobert. Some documentary shorts, including a 1983 interview with Reinaldo Arenas. It also includes the "mandatory" theatrical trailer and cast and crew biographies.

Film Value:
This movie is very much worth watching. In a world where bigotry and intolerance are returning, it is good to see movies about the importance and value of alternative points of view and artistic expression. It is a compelling, dramatic story filled with emotional scenes and human struggle. A very "artsy" film, I would recommend it for anyone who enjoys movies with depth beyond those of Arnold and Jean-Claude.


Film Value