Combustible Celluloid
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With: Javier Bardem, Olivier Martinez, Andrea di Stefano, Johnny Depp, Sean Penn
Written by: Lázaro Gómez Carriles, Cunningham O'Keefe, Julian Schnabel, based on the novel by Reynaldo Arenas
Directed by: Julian Schnabel
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexual content, some language and brief violence
Language: English, Spanish, Russian, French with English subtitles
Running Time: 133
Date: 09/03/2000

Before Night Falls (2000)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Havana Affair

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Cuban poet Reynaldo Arenas joins the long list of suffering writers portrayed in recent cinema, from Marcel Proust in Time Regained to the Marquis de Sade in Quills. And though actor Javier Bardem validates the passion and life of the writer, director Julian Schnabel fares less well in his telling of the story. Before Night Falls (2000) traces Arenas' life from his poor childhood, playing in the dirt, to getting a job in a library, entering writing competitions, getting published, discovering his homosexuality, fighting censorship, and going to jail. Admittedly, a 133-minute film is not really enough to capture a man's entire life, but Schnabel is unable to find even a connecting thread for these episodes. His pacing seriously falters about 90 minutes in, resulting in climaxes with no payoff -- as was the case with his previous film, Basquiat (1996). Still, credit is due for the high quality of acting. The Oscar-nominated Bardem more than lives up to his task; his rugged looks and passionate eyes convey chapters even when the film fails to. Besides Bardem, higher-profile stars Johnny Depp and Sean Penn shine in small, heavily disguised smaller roles. Depp has a ball with his double cameo, as a drag queen and as an oversexed German officer.

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