Julian Schnabel’s Before Night Falls is the biopic of Reinaldo Arenas, the gay writer and poet. The film paints a realistic and honest yet lyrical portrait of Arenas’ – a man possessing an incredibly talented mind – painful struggles to survive the persecution by Fidel Castro. He was among the hundreds of people who were shipped off from Cuba to the U.S by Castro in 1980. The film tracks his journey from childhood to his decision to commit suicide (assisted by a friend of his) following a diagnosis of AIDS.
Javier Bardem plays Arenas along with Johnny Depp in a double role (he plays a transvestite and one of Fidel’s rebel underlings). Also starring is an unrecognizable Sean Penn in a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it cameo, Michael Wincott and Olivier Martinez (who plays Arenas’ best friend). This beautifully poignant film strongly condemns censorship and celebrates creative freedom. One of Bardem’s best performances. He reminded me of Al Pacino from Dog Day Afternoon.
Alberto Rodriguez’s The Man with Thousand Faces is a more ambitious follow-up to his 2014 psychological thriller La Isla Minima (one of the best films of that year). It’s an exciting, slick and methodically paced account of a real life ex-spy called Francisco Paesa who had worked for the Spanish Secret Service at one point. He used to carry out top-secret operations for corrupt government officials and arms dealing for organizations like the ETA (whom he later betrayed).
Paesa was so many things rolled into one. He was also a mercenary, a businessman, and a con man. The film focuses primarily on his attempts to conceal the whereabouts of a corrupt police official called Luis Roldan and safeguard the money he embezzled from the Spanish government – a total of 1.5 billion dollars – in an offshore account. Eduard Fernández plays Paesa as a calm, calculating and unpredictable man who is a mystery to even those who are closest to him. If you are a huge fan of Frederick Forsyth’s spy thrillers, you’ll love this one.
Sebastian Borensztein has returned after 5 years to make another film with Ricardo Darin (an actor I adore so much). Koblic marks the second collaboration between the two after the immensely enjoyable 2011 film they made together, Chinese Take-Out (which was one of my favorites of that year). This film is essentially a Western set in 1977 Argentina. It has both the elements that you usually see in Westerns as well as thrillers. It’s like a contemporary redo of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven.
Darin plays a guilt-ridden pilot who flees and goes into hiding in a remote rural village after carrying out a haunting mission for the Argentinian dictatorship. His presence attracts the attention of a corrupt police commissioner called Velarde (a terrific Oscar Martinez) who runs the local precinct. While not up to the level of Borensztein’s previous film, it’s still a solid effort and worth recommending for anyone who loves intense thrillers and for fans of Darin. (I’m sure that by now most people are familiar with his The Secret in their Eyes.)