Before Night Falls reaches Australian shores after an extended period doing the film festival circuit and gaining a swag of best actor nominations for Javier Bardem. The film did not gather as many nominations for other aspects of the film, and apart from the photography (and perhaps the music), there isn’t much else to praise for this film. It’s not a poor film, but its story isn’t strong enough to totally win over the viewer.The tortured artist. It’s a concept that makes me a little suspicious. For the most part, all a suffering artist is doing is commenting on the great achievements and struggles of other people and then wallowing in the self-pity of pretending to be part of it all. Yes, it may be important that those stories of great deeds are told, but it doesn’t make the artists worthy of the greatness of the events surrounding them.
Reinaldo Arenas is a writer growing up in the freshly revolutionised Castro’s Cuba. Castro didn’t take too kindly to homosexuals; Reinaldo’s father didn’t take too kindly to artists. Reinaldo is both and so is not set for a good time in his homeland. The film documents his life from child hood. From being repressed by his father to being repressed by his country.
Bardem is unquestionably brilliant in his portrayal of Reinaldo. It’s a performance so real that you forget it’s acting. It is not an exaggerated or over stated performance. It is based in realism and the subtleties in his performance are remarkable.
Julian Schnable - who previously made Basquiat – has a background in painting. That visual flair he would have developed as an artist has progressed beautifully to the big screen. The lush tropical images of Cuban forests, the squalid jails and other buildings are still rich in colour, and the New York scenes are interestingly different.
So if it has a fine central performance and looks a treat why isn’t this film so good? It’s the story.
The story tries to be too broad and so ends up nowhere. Its episodic feel fails to gain any momentum and the Reinaldo character doesn’t seem to progress anywhere.
The film is in English – perhaps to broaden its appeal, but it makes the film feel awkward and forced. In cameo performances, Penn’s accent is almost parody. Depp is not that much better. Bardem would have been even better if he’d been allowed to speak Reinaldo’s native tongue.Before Night Falls is nearly worth recommending with Bardem’s performance and the excellent photography. Yet ultimately, the plodding story and the grating English dialogue, make this film a disappointment.