Freeze Frame: Julian Schnabel’s Before Night Falls (2000)

Director Julian Schnabel creates some interesting pallet of scenes that are sure to leave us breathless.

Biopics are at times really difficult to make with all the clichés that come with. But there are some who seem to evade all of these pitfalls and create some great moving images. One of those directors is the painter Julian Schnabel. He is a man who seems to create such poetic images on celluloid few can dispute his visions. His most recent work in the French The Diving Bell and The Butterfly was by far one of the greatest Biopics ever made. His idea of mixing poetic prose into the cinematic language has made him a darling of the critics.

This film seems to me more like an ode to the great man Reinaldo Arenas. He believes that beauty in the form of writing always needed to be preserved. But the people were mainly the causes of decay in the Cuban Communist movements. He was hounded all his life for his writings. But he still pushed forward to reach his goal in writing books that were against all the great literary figures of the time. The film resonates with much of his work which was filled with some lyrical prose.

Julian the director creates some interesting pallet of scenes that are sure to leave us breathless. There are also some interesting cameos in the movie that provide enough fodder for a dream like state that the author is mostly in. His writings talk about a revolution just with images of beauty. He will go to any extent to make sure the message of beauty is transferred to his own country and also to the world. But Alas, circumstances lead him to flee his own country. He begins to live an impoverished life in New York where he is left with his lover and diagnosed with AIDS. All his life’s work seems to be insignificant to his whole country who have totally abolished all that is beautiful.

The film is divided into parts to make it more accessible. But the whole fleeing sequence is done in a very dream sort of sequence. These are the most trying times in the writer’s life. His life begins to slowly waste away and this is something that many writers like Salman Rushdie had gone through with his Fatwa. But all this is portrayed with able guise by the immensely talented Javier Bardem. He really lives this character through and through.

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His use of his accent is one of the striking features of the performance. He is a very physical actor as well going through so many transformations during the movie itself. This makes him almost unrecognizable by the end of this film. He is an actor who so careful about time that he seems to slowly mature into his decadence. But surely without Julian the director he wouldn’t have been able to achieve this level of clarity.


Founder/Creator of Talking Films. Created Talking films back in 2009 and has been an ardent cinema lover for the past 2 decades.


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