Before Night Falls is based on the autobiography of the same name by Cuban poet and novelist Reinaldo Arenas. In the film, Arenas, who was openly gay, is born in Oriente in 1943 and raised by his single mother and her parents, who soon move the entire family to Holguín. After moving to Havana in the sixties to continue his studies, Reinaldo begins to explore his ambitions, as well as his sexuality. After receiving an honorary mention in a writing contest, Arenas is offered the chance to publish his first work. Through his work and friendships with other openly gay men (such as Pepe Malas and Tomas Diego), Arenas manages to find himself.
The political climate in Cuba becomes increasingly dangerous, and in the early seventies Arenas is arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting minors, and for publishing abroad without official consent. In the next decade, Arenas is in and out of prison, attempting and failing to leave the country several times.
In 1980, Arenas finally leaves Cuba for the US, starting a new life with his close friend Lazaro Gomez Carriles. A few years later, Arenas is diagnosed with AIDS, and after spending several years suffering he dies in 1990 with the help of Lazaro.Javier Bardem as Reinaldo Arenas
Olivier Martinez as Lazaro Gomez Carriles
Johnny Depp as Bon Bon / Lt. Victor
Héctor Babenco as Virgilio Pinera
Andrea Di Stefano as Pepe Malas
Santiago Magill as Tomas Diego
John Ortiz as Juann Abreu
Manuel González as Jose Lezama Lima
Francisco Gattorno as Jorge Camacho
Marisol Padilla Sánchez as Margarita Camacho
Michael Wincott as Herberto Zorilla Ochoa
Pedro Armendáriz Jr. as Reinaldo's Grandfather
Sean Penn as Cuco Sanchez
Najwa Nimri as Fina Zorilla Ochoa
Diego Luna as Carlos
Cy and Olmo Schnabel as Reinaldo's classmates
Vito Maria Schnabel as Teenage Reinaldo
Lola Schnabel as Girl with keys
Stella Schnabel as Valeria
Jack and Esther G. Schnabel as Mr. and Mrs. Greenberg
Olatz López Garmendia as Mrs. Arenas
Julian Schnabel got the idea of making Before Night Falls immediately after making Basquiat, however it took four years to actually produce the film.
Bardem spent one-and-a-half months in New York City with Arenas's best friend, Lazaro Gomez Carriles, taking two hours a day to study how Arenas walked and talked.
On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 73% approval rating based on 98 reviews and an average rating of 6.8/10. The site's consensus states: "An impressionistic, fragmented look at Reinaldo Arenas, Before Night Falls' imagery manages to evoke a sense of the writer's artistry, and Bardem's strong performance holds the film together. Finally, a biopic done well." Metacritic reports an 85 out of 100 rating based on 26 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".
Roger Ebert of The New York Times gave the film 3.5 stars out of 4, stating, "One is reminded a little of the Marquis de Sade, as portrayed in Quills. It was never simply what they wrote, but that, standing outside convention, taunting the authorities, inhabiting impossible lives, they wrote at all." Peter Travers from Rolling Stone awarded the film a full five out of five stars, writing, "In uniting to honor Arenas, Bardem and Schnabel create something extraordinary."
The film opened in eight venues on December 22, 2000, and earned $85,230 in its first weekend, ranking #34 in the North American box office. The film received a wide release on February 23, 2001.
Before Night Falls grossed $4.2 million in the US and $4.3 million overseas for a worldwide total of $8.5 million from an estimated $20 million budget.
Awards and nominations2000: Venice International Film Festival: Silver Lion – Jury's special award: Julian Schnabel2000: Venice International Film Festival: Coppa Volpi (Best Actor): Javier Bardem
2000: National Board of Review Award for Best Actor:Best Actor: Javier Bardem2000: National Board of Review: Top Ten Films
2000: National Board of Review Awards: Freedom of Expression
2000: Political Film Society Award for Exposé
2000: Independent Spirit Awards: Best Actor: Javier Bardem