25 April 2004 | Ben_Cheshire
Engaging, poetic, touching bio-pic about Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas.
Incredible central performance from Javier Bardem ties the film together and makes you really care what happens. Great supporting players: Sean Penn has one incredible scene early on, who had us convinced he was Cuban. We didn't at all recognise him. Johnny Depp plays two small parts, but two very memorable ones. Growly-voiced Michael Wincott (played the bad guy in The Crow and Along Came a Spider and The Doors' manager in The Doors) is memorable. Andrea di Stefano is great as a central antagonist of Reinaldo, as is the now-Hollywood-famous Olivier Martinez who plays a touching, platonic friend to Reinaldo.
Beautifully photographed and directed in an admirable manner that draws attention to style every now and then in a poetic way very fitting for a bio-pic about a poet, and at other times just utilises style to tells the story very well, and seem not to be fussing about style at all.
There are scenes here where the sound effects track stops and this gorgeous cello music by Carter Burwell (composer of Being John Malkovich, Meet Joe Black, Man who Wasn't There, with another beautiful score) plays while we watch Bardem sitting in a club while people dance around him, and the music tells us he is far away. It is a wonderful scene, akin to Kurosawa's use of music in the brilliant burning of the first castle scene in Ran.
The way the camera tells this story was so marvellous and slick (though using rough camera work to tell moments of uneasiness, importantly this is not over-used as it was in the recent Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) that i knew the filmmaker had been influenced by American filmmaking, but throughout i had no idea the guy actually WAS American! The TV program misleadingly told us it was a Cuban movie (which it is not - it is an American production with Spanish, Cuban and American actors)
I'm even more shocked considering this is the guy who made Basquiat, which i always thought was more a tele-movie, and more about art than about movie-style. Julian Schnabel, i now learn, was a neo-expressionist painter in the 80's! Basquiat, about an artist, perhaps was a movie where he was making the transition between art-language and movie-language. Before Night Falls uses traditional storytelling, to be sure, but it has such a spellbinding cinematic quality i felt sure its director was one with cinema on the brain. Perhaps Schnabel has caught the bug after all.