Before Night Falls

January 26, 2001 0 By Fans
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Still of Johnny Depp in Before Night FallsBefore Night FallsTheresa Russell at event of Before Night FallsStill of Javier Bardem in Before Night FallsStill of Javier Bardem in Before Night FallsStill of Johnny Depp and Javier Bardem in Before Night Falls


Episodic look at the life of Cuban poet and novelist, Reinaldo Arenas (1943-1990), from his childhood in Oriente province to his death in New York City…

Release Year: 2000

Rating: 7.2/10 (13,176 voted)

Critic's Score: 85/100

Julian Schnabel

Stars: Javier Bardem, Johnny Depp, Olatz López Garmendia

Episodic look at the life of Cuban poet and novelist, Reinaldo Arenas (1943-1990), from his childhood in Oriente province to his death in New York City. He joins Castro's rebels. By 1964, he is in Havana. He meets the wealthy Pepe, an early lover; a love-hate relationship lasts for years. Openly gay behavior is a way to spite the government. His writing and homosexuality get him into trouble: he spends two years in prison, writing letters for other inmates and smuggling out a novel. He befriends Lázaro Gomes Garriles, with whom he lives stateless and in poverty in Manhattan after leaving Cuba in the Mariel boat-lift. When asked why he writes, he replies cheerfully, "Revenge."

Writers: Cunningham O'Keefe, Lázaro Gómez Carriles


Olatz López Garmendia

Reinaldo's Mother

(as Olatz Lopez Garmendia)

Giovanni Florido

Young Reinaldo

(as Giovani Florido)

Loló Navarro

Reinaldo's Grandmother

Sebastián Silva

Reinaldo's Father

Carmen Beato


Cy Schnabel

Smallest School Child

(as Cy)

Olmo Schnabel

Smallest School Child

Vito Maria Schnabel

Teenage Reinaldo

Pedro Armendáriz Jr.

Reinaldo's Grandfather

(as Pedro Armendáriz)

Diego Luna


Lia Chapman


Sean Penn

Cuco Sanchez

Jerzy Skolimowski


Aquiles Benites


Ewa Piaskowska

Pretty Blonde Student


Official Website:
New Line |

Release Date: 26 January 2001

Filming Locations: New York, USA

Opening Weekend: $85,230
(25 December 2000)
(8 Screens)

Gross: $4,221,817
(15 April 2001)

Technical Specs


South Korea:

Did You Know?


Almost every scene, according to Guillermo Rosas, was photographed with a chocolate-colored filter on the camera lens. The contributed a great deal to distinctive colors and textures in the film, especially the skin tones, and the vibrancy in green hues.


Reinaldo's Mother:
Reinaldo, would you be sad if I died?

User Review

Thought Provoking Drama

Rating: 10/10

There's a lyrical quality to this film that makes the brutality of the
oppression it depicts seem almost tangible, and `Before Night Falls, `
directed by Julian Schnabel, is photographed in a way that gives much of it
something of a documentary feel (and, indeed, some archival footage is
included), which defines the drama and adds to the overall impact of the
film. And quite a story it is. The true story of writer Reinaldo Arenas
(Javier Bardem), who was born in Cuba in 1943, it touches on his childhood,
but concentrates on the '60s and '70s, during which time Arenas was
considered a counter-revolutionary by the Cuban government because of his
writing, as well as his homosexuality.

Schnabel pulls no punches as he presents an incisive picture of the
suffering inflicted upon Arenas (and others) through the wanton mistreatment
and discrimination of Castro's regime. Extremely well crafted and
delivered, it's a film that makes a powerful statement about many of the
things so many take for granted. Like freedom of speech and assembly. For
as the film points out, in post-revolution Cuba, a gathering of more than
three becomes a criminal offense; a group of people getting together for a
poetry reading become criminals of the State, and the punishment for
expressing one's own thoughts can be, at the very least, torture and

This is the environment in which Arenas grew and matured, as a person, a
poet, a writer; still, he was irrepressible when it came to his work, and
managed to create and have some of it published, but only by smuggling it
out of Cuba (in one instance to France, where his book was named Best
Foreign Novel of the year). It's a ruthless, uncompromising world Schnabel
lays bare with his camera, and it's that realistic recreation of that very
real time and place that is one of the strengths of this film. But what
really drives it and makes it so compelling, is Bardem's incredible
portrayal of Arenas.

To say that Bardem's performance was worthy of an Oscar would be an
understatement; along with Ed Harris (in `Pollock'), it was quite simply one
of the two best of the year (2000). In order to bring Arenas to life, it
was necessary for Bardem to capture all of the myriad complexities of the
man and the artist, which he did– and to perfection. It's a challenging
role, and Bardem more than lives up to it, with a detailed performance
through which he expresses the physical, as well as the emotional aspects of
the character: His mannerisms, his walk, the body language that says so
much about who he is; how he copes with living in a seemingly hopeless
situation. By the end of the movie, because of Bardem, you know who
Reinaldo Arenas was, and you're not likely to forget him.

The most poignant scenes in the film are those in which Arenas' words are
being recited as the camera creates a visual context for them, looking out
through the window of a moving car or bus at the streets, towns, buildings
and people, as Arenas describes them. These scenes fill the senses and are
virtually transporting; and it is in them that the true poetic nature of
Arenas is made manifest. It's beautiful imagery, and the contrast between
the beauty of the words and the ugliness of the reality against which it is
set is powerful. All of which is beautifully conceived and executed by
Schnabel; an excellent piece of filmmaking.

In a dual supporting performance, Johnny Depp is effective as Bon Bon, a
`queen' Arenas meets during his incarceration, and also as Lieutenant
Victor, who oversees the prison. Each character is unique, and it's quite a
showcase for Depp's versatility.

Rounding out the supporting cast are Olivier Martinez (Lazaro), Andrea Di
Stefano (Pepe), Sean Penn (Cuco), Michael Wincott (Herberto), Pedro
Armendariz Jr. (Reinaldo's Grandfather) and Vito Maria Schnabel (Teenage
Reinaldo). A film that is not necessarily entertaining, and at times
unpleasant to watch because of it's stark realism, `Before Night Falls' is,
nevertheless, thought-provoking, riveting drama that is thoroughly
engrossing. And it proves that beauty can indeed be found in the least
likely of places. But it also makes you realize that it is up to each
individual to care enough to seek it out, and to hopefully have the wisdom
to realize it once it is found. And that's the real beauty of a film like
this; it affords you the opportunity to do just that. I rate this one