Dreaming in Cuban

A Gay Rebel Writer Attains Celluloid Immortality

Arenas could not be contained by the intolerance of the Cuban revolution because he had already created his own reality through his writing. If Before Night Falls abstains from prolonged sequences of actual sex, it's not so much a cleanup strategy as a concession to Arenas's dream world. Even though Arenas has been called the Walt Whitman of Cuba, and has an artistic kinship with Genet, Wilde, and García Lorca, perhaps his most essential influence is the 17th-century Spanish playwright Calderón de la Barca. His play La Vida Es Sueño (Life Is a Dream) is often staged in the Spanish-speaking world; in fact, Bardem has played the lead, Segismundo, in productions of it.

Before Night Falls is Schnabel's dream of liberating Arenas—who published only one book in his native country—from obscurity; Bardem's dream of exploring the enigma of Cuba through Arenas's feverish outbursts; Gómez Carriles's dream of becoming a writer himself. But as Gómez Carriles, who willfully portrays himself as Arenas's dull-witted Pygmalion project, admits, their dreams are all constructs of Arenas's reality. "Me and Reinaldo were not lovers, although everybody thinks so," he reveals. "Reinaldo thought that a gay man would never be happy because he could never sleep with a real man. When I asked him why he wrote in his autobiography that we slept together when it was not true, he said: 'You never slept with me, so you were never homosexual. I slept with you because I wrote it, and what is written, people really believe. So now, I slept with a real man.' Everyone believed what he wrote, teased me about denying it, and then I'd look up and see Reinaldo, smiling at me, saying, 'See, it's true.' "


"Reinaldo was the ultimate queen, but also a person who couldn’t express himself openly": Javier Bardem in Before Night Falls.
photo: Eniac Martinez
"Reinaldo was the ultimate queen, but also a person who couldn’t express himself openly": Javier Bardem in Before Night Falls.

Plus: Jaime Manrique remembers fellow writer Reinaldo Arenas.

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