Before Night Falls, directed by well-known visual artist Julian Schnabel, inventively portrays the life of Cuban poet, playwright, and prose writer Reinaldo Arenas. The film is primarily adapted from Arenas's memoir Before Night Falls, but acquires additional background information from his other nonfiction books as well as anecdotes from Arenas's longtime friend Lázaro Gómez Carriles. Arenas is played with heartbreaking intensity by Javier Bardem who was nominated for an Academy Award for the role.
Schnabel bridges isolated segments of Arenas's life with voice-overs from his poetry and prose, enabling the film to follow Arenas from his childhood and persecution in Cuba to his exile and death in the United States. Schnabel also integrates archival footage from the Cuban Revolution, including Fidel Castro's speeches against renegades, artists, and homosexuals.
Schnabel explains why he felt it was important to tell Arenas's story through film: "I think he speaks for many. I think it's a voice for many Cubans whom we haven't heard, an outrageous voice full of humor that has turned suffering into great beauty. Out of a life of difficulty came one of the most talented voices of Latin America."