BEFORE NIGHT FALLS directed by Julian Schnabel, written by Schnabel, Cunningham O'Keefe and Lázaro Gómez, produced by Jon Kilik, with Javier Bardem, Olivier Martinez, Andrea Di Stefano, Johnny Depp and Sean Penn. 125 minutes. An Odeon Films release. Opens Friday (February 2). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 65.
the face of cinema is changing.Coming up behind megastars Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt is a crop of international actors who are turning heads and making white-as-snow pretty boys like Matt Damon and Chris O'Donnell look like cardboard cutouts.Think Russell Crowe, Benicio Del Toro, Chow Yun-Fat, Hugh Jackman and Javier Bardem.
Bardem, a Spaniard, is the least well known of the imports, but after his turn as gay Cuban author Reinaldo Arenas in director Julian Schnabel's stellar Before Night Falls, he'll have his following.
He's already picked up best-actor nods from the Venice Film Festival, the National Board of Review and the National Society of Film Critics, plus a Golden Globe nomination.
I first saw the hunky Bardem in director J.J. Bigas Luna's films Golden Balls, Jamón, Jamón and Tit And The Moon, which were so bad that Bardem was forgotten as quickly as the films themselves.
Then along came Pedro Almodóvar's underrated Live Flesh in 1997. Bardem's intense portrayal of a paraplegic basketball player trying to hold onto his wife stuck with me.
Now, Bardem is one of Spain's busiest and most sought-after actors, especially since the departure of Antonio Banderas.
In fact, Bardem lives with constant comparisons to Banderas, who left his homeland to seek his fortune in Hollywood.
"In Spain, everyone expects me to leave my country to make a career in the States, which isn't the case at all. That's absurd," says Bardem on the line from New York. "They all want me to follow in Antonio Banderas's shoes, but Antonio Banderas is Antonio Banderas.
"I think he's very brave. When he came to the States with his bags packed to make a career, he didn't have one Spanish actor as an example. Now, because I have his example, I have many more choices. All Spanish actors should be really grateful to him."
Bardem took on the leading role in Before Night Falls after Benicio Del Toro declined it. He slimmed his strapping frame, took a crash course in Cuban Spanish and English and completely immersed himself in Arenas's wildly dramatic life.
Arenas emerged out of extreme poverty, lived as a homosexual, spent time in prison, where he wrote his memoirs, escaped from Cuba and ended up contracting AIDS in New York during the 80s.
Bardem coats Arenas's gentleness with a self-protective sheen of anger and dark humour. In Bardem's large, soulful eyes we see both fear and defiance -- his Arenas is often afraid of what's going to happen next but he never retreats. It's always forward, onward -- in spite of what feels like a constant emotional pounding.
"I adored Reinaldo, I think of him as a modern hero, a 20th-century Don Quixote fighting gigantic windmills. The windmills for Reinaldo were his sexuality, Cuban machismo and Castro. But he fought back to make them recognize that he was gay, a writer and had his rights."
Bardem hadn't heard of Reinaldo Arenas before being approached to do the film, and barely recognized the name Julian Schnabel. But it didn't take long for him to crystallize his reasons for making the film.
"In Spain we have a romantic view of Cuba. We love it so much that we sometimes don't want to see it for what it is.
"Because of our past with Franco, we don't have all the information. For example, most of my generation -- I'm 31 years old -- doesn't know that there was a time when, if you were homosexual in Cuba, you went to jail and labour camps.
"That's why I wanted to do the movie so badly. I thought it was important for audiences in my country to know that.
"In the end, we wanted to show that the freedom Arenas was looking for, creative freedom, doesn't exist, in Cuba, America or any other country."
Bardem comes from a family where politics and acting always connect. His father, mother, uncle -- who was jailed during Franco's regime -- and grandfather were important members of the Communist party.
His mother is also an actor.
"My father, who died five years ago, was not into my acting. He didn't tell me that at the very beginning; only when I started to make enough money to live did he admit his worries to me.
"My mother showed me that this is not an easy job and that I'm lucky to be working, because 80 per cent of actors around the world don't work."
But what does the future hold for the suddenly hot Spaniard?
"I'd like to play parts like Reinaldo Arenas all the time, but they don't come around very often, so in the meantime I'll stay in my own country doing what I've done for 12 years.
"Maybe one day Hollywood will offer me millions of dollars to do a movie and I'll do it so I can pay the rent of all my friends and family. But that is the exception, it's not my philosophy of work." firstname.lastname@example.org
2000 Before Night Falls
1997 Perdita Durango; Live Flesh
1995 Boca A Boca
1994 Tit And The Moon
1993 Golden Balls
1992 Jamón, Jamón
1991 High Heels
Review Painter-turned-director Julian Schnabel's (Basquiat) second feature film focuses on an unlikely hero * gay Cuban poet/novelist Reinaldo Arenas, played beautifully by Spanish actor Javier Bardem. Schnabel recounts Arenas's oppressive life with an assured ease and cinematic flair. He's a storyteller who's unafraid to take small, interesting risks * like casting Johnny Depp to play two separate roles in the film * and he trusts his actors. Bardem is the raging heart of the film, showing us Arenas's gentle spirit but also capturing his wry humour, healthy ego and growing rage at his continued persecution at the hands of a repressive state. Bardem is the fine brush that Schnabel uses to paint the difficult and exacting corners of a poet's life. NNNN IRjavier
Review Painter-turned-director Julian Schnabel's (Basquiat) second feature film focuses on an unlikely hero * gay Cuban poet/novelist Reinaldo Arenas, played beautifully by Spanish actor Javier Bardem. Schnabel recounts Arenas's oppressive life with an assured ease and cinematic flair. He's a storyteller who's unafraid to take small, interesting risks * like casting Johnny Depp to play two separate roles in the film * and he trusts his actors. Bardem is the raging heart of the film, showing us Arenas's gentle spirit but also capturing his wry humour, healthy ego and growing rage at his continued persecution at the hands of a repressive state. Bardem is the fine brush that Schnabel uses to paint the difficult and exacting corners of a poet's life. NNNN IR