Thursday, November 14, 2002

The Movie I Watched Last Night XL
Before Night Falls
I've never read a word of Reinaldo Arenas' writing, but Andrea had this DVD at home, and we wanted to stay in last night, so we watched it. And watching this biographical movie based on Arenas' memoir Antes Que Anochezca makes me want to read him. And to write. I think that those are the two best things you can say about a movie about a writer, no? Arenas was a gay Cuban dissident poet during the early days of Fidel Castro's dictatorship in Cuba, and the movie tracks his developmental years as a child, time as a rebel, emergence as a writer, and eventual oppression as a homosexual intellectual. The most powerful sequences of the film, which is shot in an occasionally documentary manner, include Reinaldo's hallucinations while in solitary prison, his time hiding with other radical artists in a near-destroyed church, and his escape to New York City, where he dies of AIDS. Despite the film's moving representation of the importance of intellectual and creative expression, public speech, and group assembly, a couple of things threw me. One, Arenas' relationship with his mother is never fully explained or resolved, and there are a couple of details that cloud its reality -- his comment on her move to Miami and his hallucination about a refused reunion. Two, Johnny Depp plays two roles, which come across as one -- and that confuses the narrative. First, Depp plays Bon Bon, a prison queen who helps Arenas smuggle a book out of prison. Then, Depp plays Lieutenant Victor, which at first led me to believe that they were one and the same person -- and that Arenas was tricked into smuggling his book only to get caught. It seems that Depp's dual role, while confusing, was indeed a dual role. The one saving grace about that is the sexual ambiguity inherent in both. While Arenas didn't seem to be attracted to Bon Bon, his smuggling savior, the scene in which Victor interrogates him is awash with homosexual tension, albeit potentially hallucinated. All in all, a movie worth watching, even if you haven't read Arenas. I know that I now must. And I hope that some day, I write something so important that I have to hide it under a roof or smuggle it out of a country. Then again, maybe I don't.

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