Before Night Falls (2000)

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Released 14-Jun-2002

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Introduction
Menu Animation & Audio
Theatrical Trailer
Notes-Director's Notes
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2000
Running Time 127:41 (Case: 98)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (67:39) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Julian Schnabel

Magna Home Entertainment
Starring Javier Bardem
Olivier Martinez
Andrea Di Stefano
Johnny Depp
Michael Wincott
Sean Penn
Case C-Button-Version 2
RPI $27.95 Music Carter Burwell

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Auto Pan & Scan Encoded English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes

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Plot Synopsis

    Before Night Falls is a fantastic film by director Julian Schnabel (Basquiat) based on the memoirs of exiled Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas. It showcases his life from a poverty stricken childhood in Cuba through the country's turbulent revolution, through communism and oppression under Castro's leadership and finally through his exile in New York City.

    Reinaldo Arenas (Javier Bardem) grew up in a female dominated environment in a poor rural section of Cuba in the 1950s. Leaving home at a young age to join the revolutionaries, believing that Castro's revolution would help poor families like his own,  Reinaldo became jaded about the cause and eventually found himself persecuted under Cuba's communist society. Being openly homosexual, and through his writing he soon became an artist forced to resort to illegal means to get his works published, all the while being treated as a second class citizen for being proud of what he was and expressing it. Through the 1970s, Reinaldo was treated to the ugly side of Cuban society and ended up in jail for 2 years for a crime he did not commit.

    Eventually choosing exile to the United States in 1980, this documentary-style film is one that will tear your heart out and rip it to shreds while you watch. Bardem is simply amazing in this role and fully deserved his world-wide acclaim for it. Nominated for a Golden Globe and an Academy Award (eventually beaten by Russell Crowe), Bardem plays this role without pulling on any of our obvious heartstrings as he lets the amazing tale tell itself. The storytelling is helped by the breathtaking shots depicted in this film of the Cuban landscape. I have never seen this country look so good on screen - with the turbulent and horrible actions being carried out on this beautiful backdrop it makes for a great movie experience.

    With a great supporting cast made up of Olivier Martinez, Andrea Di Stefano, Johnny Depp, Michael Wincott and a cameo from Sean Penn as well as Schnabel's refreshing directorial style, Before Night Falls is definitely a movie for art house enthusiasts.

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Transfer Quality


    The video transfer of this film is very grainy and dark. While some of the darkness and lack of shadow detail are purposeful, to give a documentary style to the film, there are still times when some of the fault can fairly be placed on the transfer to DVD.

    The feature is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is 16x9 enhanced.

    The main problem with this transfer is its lack of sharpness and shadow detail. As mentioned above, this film is very dark and is filled with scenes that are not well lit which serves to give a documentary feel and also to enhance some of the dark forces that surround Reinaldo. Because of this, it was very important for the makers of this DVD to ensure that there is proper shadow detail so the viewers can at least see what is happening on screen. There are times on this disc where it is verging on impossible to see anything else besides a shadowy blur, with prime examples of this at 15:15, 102:50 and 115:20. Coupled with this artefact is a massive amount of grain throughout the film, with horrible examples at 8:28, 9:40, 9:54, 40:54 and plenty of other examples at 4:15, 21:16, 42:30, 61:05, 70:40, 74:00, 74:18, 91:57, 93:00, 93:09, 96:57, 105:55, 106:10, 106:43, 109:43, 115:20 and 118:49. Together, these two problems make portions of the film very unclear and difficult to watch.

    There are some beautiful colours in this film. As mentioned, the way that Cuba is shown off is simply mind-blowing. The greens of the trees and the forests throughout the film are deeply rich and beautiful which adds to the texture of the film as a whole. The colour palette of the film is very earthy with plenty of greens, browns and dark greys which serves the film well. There were no colour related artefacts noticed.

    There were no MPEG artefacts to be found, but there were some slight film-to-video artefacts in the form of aliasing at 93:56. There are negative film artefacts throughout in the film of dust and dirt in some of the darker scenes, but nothing too bad except for between 74:18 and 74:33 - I felt that these actually served the film well as it gave more of a dirty feel to it!

    There are no subtitles recorded on this disc which I found very annoying. All the actors in the film speak with very heavy accents which sometimes makes it very hard to understand what is being said, and thus, hard to follow the storyline. There are some subtitles burned into the film that translate some signs and passages of language.

    This disc is RSDL formatted with the layer change occurring at 67:39 at the change of a scene. It is adequately placed.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The audio transfer of this film is not overly stunning, and it is sometimes hard to grasp what is being said.

    There is only one audio track recorded on this DVD, and needless to say, it is the one I listened to -  it is an English 2.0 Dolby Surround track recorded at 224 kb/s.

    As I touched upon in the subtitle section of the video transfer, some of the dialogue in the film is very hard to understand; while some of this is because of the heavy accents the characters have, the dialogue could have been a lot sharper and clearer than it appears on the DVD.  There are no problems with the audio synchronisation in the transfer.

    The music in this film never threatens to take over the on-screen action and plays a major part in what we feel for Reinaldo. It emanates from the left and right channels and tends to bleed into the centre which takes away some clarity from the centre speaker.

    The surrounds are used very sparingly, if at all.

    The  subwoofer is not used.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use




    A static shot of Javier Bardem, the same as on the front cover of the DVD. There is audio playing what seems to be the music from Sex and the City....

Theatrical Trailer    (2:02)

    Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and not 16x9 enhanced, this trailer feels more like a long TV Spot than anything else as it contains a lot of 'The New York Times calls Before Night Falls a masterpiece...' sorts of things. It does play well though and would make me want to go and see it.

Director's Notes

    Only two pages of notes by Schnabel presented over still shots from the film.


    These biographies actually are quite interesting- there are bios for Julian Schnabel, Jon Kilk (Producer), Javier Bardem, Olivier Martinez, Andrea Di Stefano, Johnny Depp and Sean Penn.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.


    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;

    The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;     No contest here with the local Region 4 release not getting the treatment by Magna Pacific that the film deserves. With a decidedly better video transfer, a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix and a lot more extras including a great commentary track, the Region 1 version is the clear winner on this occasion.


    Before Night Falls is a fantastic film that is presented poorly on DVD. Yes, the film has a dirty look about it, but the amount of grain and dark shadowy shots presented here is beyond acceptable. A truly great piece of film making, though.

    The video transfer is substandard.

    The audio transfer is lacklustre.

    The extras are fairly weak in their numbers.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Hugh Fotheringham (what the hell is going on in bio??)
Monday, October 07, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDSony DVP-S525, using Component output
DisplayLoewe Xelos (81cm) 16:9. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-DS797- THX Select
SpeakersJamo X550 Left and Right, Jamo X5CEN Centre, Jamo X510 Surround

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Comments (Add)
DVD Transfer is not as bad as review makes out - Eddy T (read my bio) REPLY POSTED