Before Night Falls (SE), B+, A
New Line/2000/133/ANA 1.85

    Perhaps the supreme accomplishment of Before Night Falls is the ease in which it marries the personal story of writer Reynaldo Arenas to the modern history of Cuba. Arenas was a young Cuban born on a remote farm who came of age during the Castro revolution in the late 1950s.. Arenas flourished on the family move to the city, honing his skills as a writer and finding out who he was. Arenas, filled with a passion for life, was also filled with a passion for men. As the Castro regime cracked down on homosexuals and political dissidents alike, as they squeezed the lifeblood from the artistic community, Arenas' life dissolved into a nightmare of oppression and horror. Before Night Falls, based on his memoir, recounts the excitement of discovery and the fight for survival under the most lamentable circumstances.

Beach games. ©New Line

     Director Julian Schnabel finds his stride with Before Night Falls, his second feature film after the 1996 Basquiat. The work flexes its artistic soul with passion and Schnabel's team of players are infected with his vision. Director Schnabel gives the actors emotional freedom resulting in wonderful work across the board. The actors respond and react to the periods of the film wonderfully well. Javier Bardem is outstanding as Reynaldo Arenas. Bardem explores a extraordinary range of emotions in the course of the film. It's a beautifully modulated Oscar nominated© performance; subtle facial expressions, body language, all work to fulfill the vision of Arenas. Outstanding supporting cast members include Olivier Martinez and Andrea Di Stefano, with Johnny Depp having double dipping in entertaining dual roles.
    Production design, the score, music supervision, cinematography, meld seamlessly into a coherent work of art. Cinematically, Before Night Falls breathes its own life. There's no consistent look throughout the film, yet each scene lives vitally. A fine artistic instinct governs the flow. Like looking at a great painting, the overall power of the work takes on a quality beyond its individual parts. The beach scenes mix life into the grit of the sand the warmth of the sun and the spray of the surf.  Schnabel makes a daring choice of shifting between English and Spanish with no seeming fixed pattern, but the shifts seem very natural. Schnabel's pacing is excellent and the film never ceases to move in its natural arc.
    The many cinematic textures and lighting treatments of Before Night Falls are transferred to DVD with an fine understanding of the raw material. In grainy compositions, the result is totally natural. If the light should be slightly blown out, so it is. Color is accurate and well saturated. Night scenes are deep and highlight lighting perfect. Shadow detail is reveals what's supposed to be in the shot and nothing more. Overall excellent contrast range. An excellent Dolby Digital 5:1 surround sound track compliments the visual style handsomely.
     Every aspect of the filmmaking process is covered by the rich audio commentary in Before Night Falls. With director Julian Schnabel taking the lead, actor Javier Bardem, writer Lázaro Gomez-Carriles, composer Carter Burwell and co-director of photography Xavier Perez Grobet join is the free spirited discussion of the film and protagonist Reynaldo Arenas. Schnabel explains his use of English and Spanish while cinematographer Grobet comments that he feels he captured the essence of Schnabel's painting style in the film's look. There's also a mini tour of Schnabel's studio hosted by the filmmaker and painter. It's very interesting, but does it cast more light on the film? I don't think so. A short video presentation from director Schnabel's daughter Lola is a nice compliment to the film. Finally, excerpts from a 1983 interview with Reynaldo Arenas presents us with a picture of the real man.


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