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Monday, 18 June, 2001, 16:09 GMT 17:09 UK
Before Night Falls: Press reviews
Javier Bardem
Javier Bardem puts in a fantastic performance
Press reviews of Before Night Falls.

The Daily Telegraph

Bardem, with his languid eyes, fleshy lips and throwaway charm, can play strong and vulnerable with equal ease. It was hard to imagine that he could top his performance as the paraplegic cop in Pedro Almodovar's Live Flesh, but he is extraordinary as the contradictory, stubborn Arenas.

The Guardian

It's a curiously apolitical movie. Bafflingly, Arenas is never shown reflecting on the repressive nature of the Castro regime. One minute he is hanging on the words of a visiting Russian lecturer on collectivist economics, the next he is thrown in jail as a gay man.

The Times

This is a movie about a volatile, sensual man, a writer born into poverty who lived through persecution and died in penury. A human being who dared to think and write, lust and love, even as the world conspired to destroy him.

Schnabel more than conveys this with lyrical flourishes and small cold realities that manage to transcend Arenas's dauntingly complex life history. What emerges is a very good movie, a whisker away from great.

The Independent

Schnabel's reading of his subject suggests that Arenas was not simply a "martyr of oppression", that being caught in a historical tight spot wasn't the transfiguring circumstance of his life. The implication of this flawed but vigorous movie is that Reinaldo Arenas's real torment was the inescapable burden of his own self.

London Evening Standard

The film shifts shapes, sounds and scenes with kaleidoscopic swiftness and ease. Bardem's performance gives it a stable centre. It reflects the confusions of life in Havana, a place rendered plausible enough through the choice of rundown but still beautifully decrepit Mexican locations. And there are scenes - like the attempt to escape to the US Naval Base at Guantanamo by a hot-air balloon constructed secretly inside an abandoned church - which combine a magic realism with a tragic reality.

The Observer

Perfection? You can always carp, and some of the storytelling grows ragged on time and place. Schnabel has fitted the familiar struggle to carve a true life into the confines of drama. But these are quibbles. They don't diminish the power of the tale or the resonance of Bardem. They don't drain away the sorrow or the pity - or the anger.

The Sunday Times

My main objection to the film's emphasis on government persecution is that it's designed to allow the recycling of a rather tired cliché: the noble, oppressed writer whose gift for phrase-making terrifies the powers that be. Unable to wring anything fresh from this archetype, the film is fundamentally ordinary.

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