To the followers of the Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas, seeing a Spanish actor do their idol’s antics on-screen is ecstasy—it’s as though somebody has pulled their celebrated writer out of the grave to see him in a two-hour spectacle of how he lived his parlous life. And in every dark avenue of Julian Schnabel’s 2000 adaptation of Arenas’s autobiography of the same name, Before Night Falls, Bardem’s thespian acumen lingers in every scream, homosexual kiss, heterosexual queasiness, melancholy, political oppression, and novel writing misery—indeed, it’s a 133-minutereel of authentic Cuban pain.
Arenas and Bardem do not have any uncanny resemblance. They are handsome in their own right. But when Bardem embarks before the camera he appears as though he has had a pact with Arenas’s soul. They are unrecognizable from each other.
Bardem, without doubts, was born to be an actor. But his transformation into a homosexual poet and novelist has some painful origins. He learned to walk like Arenas did, tweaked his Spaniard tongue into native Cuban, kissed men as though he, too, was a homosexual and puked when his lips united with the women’s as if he hated it, and taught his pointy fingers to kiss the antiquated typewriters, as though he understood what it took to be a writer in a politically restrained nation.
And it really came out of Bardem’s mouth: that when he was learning to type in the movie, he wanted to understand why Arenas was writing, or for whom he was writing. And when he started to write in the movie as the camera began to roll he realized: “When I’m writing in the movie, I’m writing to him.”
Understanding the depth of an actor is one of the many things a film enthusiast like Samantha Pouls must know. More about understanding the complexities of filmmaking can be found on this blog.