Before Night Falls (2000) - Synopsis

before night falls - heading

Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 2000 Venice Film Festival, Before Night Falls is a richly imagined journey into the life and writings of the brilliant Cuban author and exile Reinaldo Arenas. Directed and co-written by Julian Schnabel (basquiat (1996)), the film stars Spanish actor Javier Bardem (Live Flesh (1997), jamon, Jamon (1992)), whose eloquent, complex performance as Arenas earned him the 2000 Venice Film Festival's Volpi Cup for Best Actor.

Before Night Falls spans the whole of Arenas' life, from his rural childhood and his early embrace of the Revolution to the persecution he would later experience as a writer and homosexual in Castro's Cuba; from his departure from Cuba in the Mariel Harbor exodus of 1980 to his exile and death in the United States. It is a portrait of a man whose search for freedom - artistic, political, sexual - defied poverty, censorship, persecution, exile and death. Like Arenas' work, Before Night Falls combines passages of transporting imagination with urgent realism; in so doing, it embodies the creative ethos to which Arenas dedicated himself: transforming experience into unfettered expression.

Reinaldo Arenas was born on July 16, 1943 to a beautiful young woman (Olatz Lopez Garmendia) who was soon abandoned by Reinaldo's father. Consigning herself to a life of bitter chastity in this machismo society, Reinaldo's mother returned with him to her parents' farm in Cuba's Oriente province. Reinaldo's childhood was defined by the contrast between his family's unmitigated poverty and the natural splendor that surrounded him; in the abundance and anonymity conferred by those opposing circumstances, he found an immeasurable freedom. The boy followed his impulses, whether he was writing poetry, watching young men bathe nude in the river or reveling in the unpredictability of a torrential downpour.

In 1958, Reinaldo's family moved to the town of Holguín. Though still in his teens, he joined Castro's insurgency to overthrow the dictator Fulgencio Batista. With the triumph of the Revolution, Reinaldo was able to partake in the new government's ambitious program to educate its youth. By 1962, Reinaldo (Javier Bardem) was attending the University of Havana and living in a cosmopolitan city that pulsed with excitement and possibility. He discovered that a sexual revolution was occurring alongside the official Revolution, and his wide range of lovers included the volatile, alluring Pepe Malas (Andrea Di Stefano) who introduced him to Havana's thriving homosexual subculture.

In those early days of the Revolution, Reinaldo's life was an exploration of his identity as a writer and a homosexual, each activity pursued with zest and joy. He entered a storytelling contest, and his evident gifts led to his securing work at the prestigious National Library. He was befriended by some of Cuba's most celebrated writers, including Virgilio Piñera (Hector Babenco) and José Lezama Lima (Manuel Gonzalez).

At the age of 20, he wrote his first novel, 'Singing From the Well' (Celestino antes del alba), which was awarded First Mention in the country's Cirilo Villaverde National Competition.

'Singing From the Well' was to be Reinaldo's only book published in his native country. By the late 1960s, the Cuban government had begun a brutal crackdown on artists and homosexuals. Writers were forced to renounce their work and homosexuals were rounded up and sent to labor camps whose flowery titles belied their cruelty. Despite the danger, Reinaldo continued to write, giving free reign to his irreverent, outspoken vision. His second novel, 'Hallucinations' (El mundo alucinante), was smuggled out of Cuba and published in France, earning him the hostility of Castro's government. For the next several years, he was subject to relentless persecution, as the government and the police searched his rooms, confiscated his work and threatened his friends.

In 1973, following an altercation on the beach, Reinaldo was falsely accused of sexual molestation and arrested. He escaped from jail and made a desperate attempt to flee the island in an inner tube. The attempt failed; Reinaldo was now a fugitive. He was re-arrested near Lenin Park and sent to the notorious El Morro prison, where he served two years alongside murderers, rapists and common criminals. He survived by composing letters to the inmates' wives and lovers; those favors enabled him to accumulate the paper and pencils he needed for his own writing. However, his attempts to smuggle his work out of the prison were found out and he was brutally punished. Faced with the choice of renouncing his work or disappearing from this earth, Reinaldo chose the former.

Upon his release from El Morro, Reinaldo was an award-winning writer without a place to live. A friend found him a room at the hotel, and it was there that Reinaldo met Lázaro Gómez Carriles (Olivier Martinez), who became his great friend.

In 1980, Castro allowed homosexuals, mental patients and criminals to leave Cuba in the Mariel Harbor boatlift; a last-minute change to his passport allowed Reinaldo to leave the country undetected. Settling in New York, he began his life as an exile: impoverished and stateless, but with his appetite for life and writing still fierce, his humor, rage and honesty intact. His struggles were far from over, though; after he contracted AIDS, he waged a truly furious race against death to complete his works-in-progress. By the time of his death in 1990, Reinaldo had written over 20 books, including 10 novels as well as numerous short stories, poems, essays and plays. His body of work is arguably the most passionate and angry ever written against the totalitarian state. Reinaldo Arenas' memoir, 'Before Night Falls', was published in English in 1993 and was listed by 'The New York Times Book Review' as one of the year's Best Books.

Twentieth Century Fox is proud to present a Grandview Pictures production, Before Night Falls, directed by Julian Schnabel, based on the work of author Reinaldo Arenas, including the memoir 'Before Night Falls' and the novels 'Hallucinations', 'The Color of Summer' and 'The Palace of the White Skunks'. Written by Cunningham O'Keefe, Lázaro Gómez Carriles and Julian Schnabel and produced by Jon Kilik, the film stars Javier Bardem, Olivier Martinez, Andrea Di Stefano, Johnny Depp, Sean Penn, Michael Wincott, Olatz Lopez Garmendia and Vito Maria Schnabel. The directors of photography are Xavier Pérez Grobet and Guillermo Rosas, the editor Michael Berenbaum, the production designer Salvador Parra and the costume designer Mariestela Fernández. The film's composer is Carter Burwell, with additional music by Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson. Twentieth Century Fox is releasing Before Night Falls throughout Latin America.