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  Directed by
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer ( )
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital Stereo
  Subtitles
  • None
  Extras
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Cast/crew biographies - Textual
  • Production notes - From the director

Before Night Falls

Magna/Magna . R4 . COLOR . 128 mins . MA15+ . PAL

  Feature
Contract

It's beginning to feel like "Revolution Week" for this reviewer. Having finished with an attempted Indonesian civil revolution during The Year Of Living Dangerously, it was off to Fidel Castro's freshly revolutionised Cuba, the setting of Before Night Falls, released in 2000.

Like the attempted revolt in The Year Of Living Dangerously, the Cuban revolution is merely a backdrop for the drama that unfolds in Before Night Falls. In the case of this film, it is a catalyst for major social change that is not welcomed by all Cuban citizens. Fidel Castro had a vision for Cuba, and many Cubans such as writers and homosexuals were not a part of that vision. Unfortunately for Reinaldo Arenas, he was both a writer/poet and a homosexual, and not unlike many of his fellow countrymen (and women), his life was one of torment, torture, persecution, and imprisonment.

The film opens with the young Arenas, the child of peasants, growing up in a matriarchal household. His flair for poetry, and his sexuality, develops at roughly the same time in his teenage years, and he appears keen on exploring both. His literary skills do not go unnoticed, and his first novel is a success. It will turn out to be the only novel actually published in Cuba. Neither does his sexuality go unnoticed. Wrongfully accused of a sex crime, Arenas spends two years in prison where he survives by writing letters for the inmates to their wives and lovers. He also arranges an interesting method for smuggling out his work, including a novel that, like his subsequent novels, ends up being published in Paris. Upon release, and after further persecution, he becomes part of Cuba's purge of 'undesirables' to the USA. Homosexuals, the mentally ill and those with a criminal record were all but encouraged to leave Cuba, and by the time the Mariel boatlift was over, more than 250,000 Cubans had 'exiled' themselves.

Arenas ends up in New York, but again he fails to find the happiness and real freedom he seeks. The one man he truly cares for, a fellow Cuban dissident, can not reciprocate, but they do form a close and honest relationship, with a rather surprising final twist.

Based on the book of the same name by Cuban poet and writer, Reinaldo Arenas, Before Night Fallsis the lifelong story of an oppressed homosexual man, with an overwhelming desire to write and to be free. The story, being autobiographical, lends the film a greater sense of frustration and sadness. The cast (which includes Johnny Depp playing two roles) give convincing performances, and although the storyline becomes a little condensed once the setting shifts to New York, the pacing and editing do not pose any continuity problems.

Both the film itself, and lead actor Javier Bardem, won numerous awards and it's not hard to see why. It is a good solid drama that, although dark and bordering on sombre, contains some warm and amusing moments, proving yet again that comedy and tragedy can effectively work together. It should also leave you thankful that we live in a country that allows us to be individuals, and to express ourselves freely, without fear of prosecution and persecution... well, in theory anyway.

  Video
Contract

Before Night Falls is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. From the outset, it has that 'budget' look about it, and I guess that's to be expected, for this is a small budget film. The transfer, in general, is fair without being brilliant. There is softness to the image, and some slight grain throughout most of the film. The brighter outdoor scenes are much brighter and cleaner, and it's a shame more use was not made of Cuba's beautiful scenery, including the beaches. The image is also a little on the dark side, as is the colouring, but this is not severe. Shadow detail is fair to occasionally poor. It is only fair to point out though that this may be deliberate, as the nature of the film is dark. There are relatively few artefacts, apart from some frequent sparkles, made more noticeable by the darkness of the film.

There is also some vintage Cuban footage, with images of Castro and the real Cuba just after the revolution. As you would expect, these images are not of particularly great quality, but are a necessary addition to the film, and while they are grainy and very soft with severe artefacting, they add to the overall oppressive and historical air.

The layer change is well placed between scenes at 67:39, during a fade-out.

  Audio
Contract

Another unremarkable, yet adequate, audio presentation. Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo is the only track provided, and there are no subtitles, save for a few that are hard coded into the image, during the passages spoken in French and Spanish. As there are no significant loud noises, the subwoofer is not particularly missed, and the front speakers carry the low-level sounds adequately. The dialogue is occasionally impossible to understand, due to the heavy Cuban accents. The sounds otherwise are clear and synchronisation was slightly out in one of the early scenes, but isn't apparent after that.

There is some noticeable separation and panning of sounds such as cars passing by. The music is great, and includes mostly Latin style songs. A 5.1 mix would have made this sound even better.

  Extras
Contract

There are several extras on offer, so let's hope you like reading.

Theatrical Trailer: Presented with the same specifications as the feature other then the 16x9 enhancement, this is your stock standard trailer. It runs for 2:03 and includes scenes from the film. It includes an annoying and incredibly over-dramatic voiceover, and is a veritable explosion of adjectives - it's almost comical. I think there must be a voiceover school somewhere that these guys go to learn to all sound the same.

Director's Notes: Several screens of fairly small text, but informative nonetheless.

Synopsis: More text of what the film is about. Skip this and the Theatrical Trailer and go straight to the film. Trust me.

Biographies Still more text, this time of the careers of the main cast and crew, including Sean Penn, who has about three minutes of screen time. So brief, in fact, that I missed him.

  Overall  
Contract

Before Night Falls had a brief run upon cinema release last year. Critics by and large received it warmly, even glowingly, and it certainly gives cause to offer thanks that we do not live in a fascist state where creativity, and sexuality, determine who lives freely and who doesn't. The performances of the cast are strong, and are probably the best thing about the film. The storyline is hard to fault, being based on the autobiography of lead character, Reinaldo Arenas. It's not going to blow you away in the video and audio stakes, but fortunately, it is not that type of film.


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      And I quote...
    "A film about the life of gay, Cuban writer/poet, Reinaldo Arenas, with cameos from Sean Penn and Johnny Depp - in drag! "
    - Terry Kemp
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Akai
    • TV:
          TEAC CT-F803 80cm Super Flat Screen
    • Receiver:
          Pioneer VSX-D409
    • Speakers:
          Wellings
    • Centre Speaker:
          Wellings
    • Surrounds:
          Wellings
    • Subwoofer:
          Sherwood SP 210W
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          standard s-video
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