AFI Movie Club: BEFORE NIGHT FALLS – American Film Institute
Before Night Falls Film Still - Javier Bardem and Olivier Martinez



BEFORE NIGHT FALLS received an AFI AWARD in 2000 – recognizing it as culturally and artistically representative of the year’s most significant achievements in the art of the moving image.


Movie Trivia about BEFORE NIGHT FALLS

​-DID YOU KNOW that much of the narration is taken directly from Reinaldo Arenas’ posthumously published memoir “Before Night Falls”?

-DID YOU KNOW that painter-turned-director Julian Schnabel decided to make BEFORE NIGHT FALLS after watching a documentary on Cuban exiles, among whom Reinaldo Arenas was featured? It is the first American film to deal directly with human rights abuses in Cuba.

-DID YOU KNOW Javier Bardem lost 30 pounds to portray Arenas, a gay Cuban writer who was imprisoned by the Fidel Castro regime in the 1970s? BEFORE NIGHT FALLS marks Javier Bardem’s first English-speaking role.

-DID YOU KNOW that lead actor Javier Bardem had his own personal familiarity with Spanish dictatorships? Bardem’s mother, Pilar, and his uncle Juan Antonio were both jailed under Francisco Franco for being communists.

-DID YOU KNOW that the sequence in which Arenas is interviewed in New York is based on an actual interview he gave for Jana Bokova’s BBC television documentary HAVANA?

-DID YOU KNOW that director Julian Schnabel first asked Benicio del Toro to play Arenas and cast Spanish actor Javier Bardem as Lázaro Gómez Carriles? When Benicio del Toro dropped out of the film, Schnabel offered the part of Arenas to Javier Bardem who initially turned it down because he did not speak English and was wary of Arenas’s anti-Communist politics? Bardem ultimately accepted the role after intensive English lessons, reading Arenas’ books and studying life in Cuba.

-DID YOU KNOW that Olatz Lopez Garmendia, who plays Reinaldo’s mother, is Julian Schnabel’s ex-wife – and Vito Maria Schnabel, who plays a teenaged Reinaldo, is their son?

-DID YOU KNOW Marlon Brando and Al Pacino were both offered the role of Lezama Lima? The part was ultimately played by Manuel González – a friend of Julian Schnabel’s, who was the Global Art Executive of the David Rockefeller-founded Chase Bank Art Collection.

-DID YOU KNOW director Julian Schnabel invested $8,000,000 of his own money in the production?

-DID YOU KNOW that although set in Cuba, the film was produced almost entirely in Mexico, with Veracruz doubling as Havana?

-DID YOU KNOW Javier Bardem was nominated for an Oscar® for his performance in BEFORE NIGHT FALLS, making him the first Spanish actor to be awarded this honor?

Learn more at the AFI Catalog.


The movie doesn’t end at the credits: Family-friendly Discussion Questions

Join the conversation on Twitter and Instagram now using #AFIMovieClub. Or post your responses in the comment section below.

-How does the film differ from Reinaldo Arenas’ book “Before Night Falls”?

-How does the movie depict the rise of the Castro regime? In what ways is Reinaldo Arenas politically discriminated against and why?

-What other notable Cuban literary figures appear in the movie?

-Arenas was jailed several times over the course of his life. How was the LGBTQ community discriminated against in Cuba?

-What does the United States represent for Arenas? How is it portrayed in the film?

-What does the film have to say about freedom of expression, particularly for writers and other creative artists?

-How can you see Julian Schnabel’s background as an artist in BEFORE NIGHT FALLS? What did you think of the impressionistic aesthetics of the film?

-How did Reinaldo Arenas’ AIDS diagnosis affect his life and his work?

-How would you rate BEFORE NIGHT FALLS?


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AFI has created a global, virtual gathering of those who love the movies. Each day’s film is accompanied by fun facts, family-friendly discussion points and material from the AFI Archive to enrich your viewing experience.

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Comments (1)

Jay Castano

I love AFI.
I’m from Cuba and have watched BEFORE NIGHT T FALLS several times. I also met the real Reinaldo Arenas when he came to speak at G’Town University.
Javier Bardem AND Pedro Almodóvar are well aware of the despotic tyrany Cuba has been under the Castro regime and dynasty. It hasn’t changed much in 61 years!

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