Javier Bardem as Reinaldo & Olivier Martinez as Lázaro


In its purest essence, the art of cinema still finds its way into the psychic of film lovers through exposure to the individual. Before Night Falls has been creating a sensation in Europe since its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival and word spread wild fire among Hollywood insiders long before the film's upcoming release in the U.S. (December 22, 2000 limited; January 12, 2001 wide). Fresh from National Board of Review 2000 Film Awards presented to actor Javier Bardem for his portrayal of Reinaldo Arenas and the films placement in the Board's Top 10 list of the years best films, Before Night Falls promises to hit streets across America with passion.

Director, Julian Schnabel, turned to the canvas of film to paint a compelling portrait of life behind the dark curtain of Castro's Cuba. With a watchful eye, he transformed a poet's words into cinema so real you can literally experience the painful chill of Reinaldo Arenas' repression and persecution. Why is this story so important in our pursuit of self-indulgence and affluence? Perhaps the answer lies in the concept that freedom cannot be truly experienced without some exposure to the lack of it.

Reinaldo Arenas story begins with his birth in 1943, a particularly prolific year for producing future poets of revolution (George Harrison, Jim Morrison, Mick Jagger, Janis Joplin … ). Abandoned by his father, Reinaldo's mother took her young son to live with her parents on a farm in the Oriente province of Cuba. Influenced by the contrast of unmitigated poverty played out in a lush natural setting, Reinaldo was allowed to follow every impulse, experiencing immeasurable freedom.

In 1958, his family moved to the town of Holguin where Reinaldo joined Castro's insurgency to overthrow the dictator Batista. With the triumph of the Revolution, he immersed himself in the new government's ambitious program to educate the youth of Cuba. By 1962, Reinaldo (Javier Bardem) was attending the University of Havana and surrounded by a city filled with possibilities. Swept into the influence of the sexual revolution of the time, he indulged in a wide range of lovers including Pepe Malas (Andrea Di Stefano), who introduced him to Havana's thriving homosexual subculture.

Reinaldo pursued the exploration of his identity as a writer and homosexual with enthusiasm and joy. He entered a storytelling contest and secured work at the prestigious National Library. He became friends with Cuba's most celebrated writers and published his first novel titled Singing from the Well at the age of twenty. It was awarded First Mention in the country's Cirilo Villaverde National Competition.

In the late 1960's the Cuban government began a persecution of artists and homosexuals. Writers were forced to renounce their work and homosexuals were sent to labor camps. Defiant, Reinaldo continued to write and smuggled his next novel, Halluncinations, to France for publication. For the next few years he was subject to relentless persecution as authorities searched his rooms, confiscated his work and threatened his friends.

In 1973, Reinaldo was arrested. Falsely accused of sexual molestation, he escaped from jail and attempted to flee the island afloat on an inner tube. He failed and was again arrested and sent to the notorious El Morro prison where he served two years. He survived by composing letters to the inmates' wives and lovers, accumulating pencil and paper for his writing. He was discovered in an attempt to smuggle his work out of the prison ,brutally punished and forced to renounce his work.

Upon his release from El Morro, Reinaldo took residence at a hotel where he met Lázaro Gómez Carriles (Olivier Martinez), who became a life long friend. In 1980, Castro allowed homosexuals, mental patients and criminals to leave Cuba. Reinaldo left Cuba in exile, settling in New York. One of the early victims of AIDS, he waged a truly furious race against dead to complete his works in process. By the time of his death in 1990, Reinaldo had written over 20 books (including 10 novels) and numerous short stories. His work has been noted as the most passionate and angry published against the totalitarian state.


Arenas Memoir, Before Night Falls was published in English in 1993 and listed by The New York Times Book Review as one of the year's best books.

 Before Night Falls

Ironically, it is quite possible the film will become the vehicle that introduces Reinaldo's struggle to the masses. Life becomes Art …

Painter and filmmaker, Julian Schnabel, spoke passionately about his inspiration for Before Night Falls, "You can't stop art. You can try to stop it, but like grass it will come up through the cracks even after cement is laid on top of it." He was referring to his vision of filmmaking and Arenas' obsession to write in defiance of political persecution. While repression continues to exist in many parts of our world, Julian hopes to bring to light the sensitivity and dreams of people who live their whole lives in the uncertainty of life in a totalitarian state.

Johnny Depp as Lieutenant Victor

An eclectic cast brings to vivid reality its characters. Johnny Depp's scene stealing entrance as Bon Bon is worth the price of admission alone, but it is his dual role as Lieutenant Victor that roots itself back in Arenas' work. "In Reinaldo's writing, one character can be two, three different personages; somebody can be a man and a woman at the same time," Schnabel explains. "I also like to think that Reinaldo would imagine that Lieutenant Victor and Bon Bon could be the same person - that Cuban State Security would go to such extravagant lengths to undermine the stability of the prisoners. The fact that Bon Bon/Lieutenant Victor could be Reinaldo's vision of beauty and his destruction is a constant in Reinaldo's body of work - he turned everything into literature."

Michael Wincott's portrayal of Heberto Zorillo Ochoa is as intense as the fate his character suffers by being forced to denounce his work in public and to denounce his family and friends. "It is a pivotal role", Schnabel continues, "You've seen this man in the background, he's been part of the city's cultural life and then all of a sudden, he's singled out."

But it is the passion and strength of two young European actors that sets Before Night Falls apart from most films.

French actor, Olivier Martinez's portrayal of Reinaldo's life long friend Lázaro reflects his real life as a child of refugees. "He is someone who is always on the edge in the same way that Lázaro is." Julian noted. Olivier brings a poignant sensitivity to his character's role as caretaker through the last years of Reinaldo's life.

Javier Bardem's American breakout performance as Reinaldo evokes a compelling feeling of compassion for the story. His preparation for the role entailed a great deal of work. He studied English, lost weight and searched for his character through Reinaldo's great body of work, "That's why he survived. Reinaldo had to write, or he would have died. He used his writing, his humor, his pain and his homosexuality as weapons against the regime." Javier explained. Unsure about his ability to capture Reinaldo's character, Javier drew confidence from a photo of Arenas. "I knew when I saw the strength in his face, that I could do it." His main concern: "Trying to be respectful of the people who knew him." With talk of awards, Javier is adamant in his response. "I want to enjoy this moment of doing a movie that I like and that a lot of people like… that is enough for me."



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