Before Night Falls

Painter Julian Schnabel followed up his debut feature, Basquiat, with another biopic (2000) about a minority artist: Reinaldo Arenas, the gay Cuban writer who learned to read from revolutionaries, published most of his books abroad, and eventually died an exile in New York. The film is less visually inventive than its predecessor and perhaps even more questionable as an accurate portrait: the script, adapted by Schnabel, Lazaro Gomez Carriles, and Cunningham O’Keefe from Arenas’s posthumously published memoirs, answers only a fraction of the questions it raises and allows political correctness to fudge certain aspects of the subject’s personality (his dislike of most other homosexuals, for instance) and the fact that other Latino intellectuals viewed him as a hick. But this is still an impressive piece of filmmaking, with lively and suggestive depictions of pre- and postrevolutionary Cuba (shot in Mexico). Javier Bardem is truly exceptional as Arenas, and other actors make their marks as well, including Sean Penn, Michael Wincott, film directors Hector Babenco and Jerzy Skolimowski, and Johnny Depp in an impressive double cameo. 125 min. (JR)

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