before night falls(2000)
director: julian schnabel
javier bardem, johnny depp, sean penn

. Artist Julian Schnabel beautifully evokes the thwarted, sensual fervor of Cuba with this flm based on the life of the late, gay writer Reinaldo Arenas, which won a top prize at this year's Venice film festival.

As Arenas, Javier Bardem actually gives some hint of the odd, compulsive, solitary work that a writer does, even if his life is flamboyant, chaotic and harsh. Arenasí work was suppressed by Castro, the writer harassed and imprisoned by the regime, but his life didnít improve much when he escaped to New York. Schnabel understands that the tragedy of a writer or artist from a place like Cuba is that, as brutal as a dictatorship treats its creative talent, itís even more destructive to take the artist away from their culture.

His last film, Basquiat, gave no hint that Schnabel was anything but a dilettante playing with the movie medium, but his new film is assured and ambitious, beautiful at times, and intelligent without being impossibly pretentious. Best of all, Schnabel has an understanding of Cuba thatís positively rare for an American.

Excellently cast, mostly with Spanish and Latin American actors, itís amusing to spot the cameos by Sean Penn and Johnny Depp, as a Cuban peasant and an outrageous drag queen, respectively.