A beautiful film in every terms: from outstanding cinematography to dazzling ambiance, from stirring performances to gripping theme. Having the bittersweet taste of an independent film, it defies categorization, grimly realistic and highly improvisational. What I particularly found captivating is its almost-documentary nature and realness, a razor-sharp realness disguised under character persona.
The film traces the chaotic life of Cuban novelist Reinaldo Arenas, from his unwanted birth in absolute poverty in Oriente to his death in NYC at the age of 47. Multi-layered and absorbing, the film follows a narrative-based episodic course and never gets bogged down in long and boring psychological analyses and free from any kind of unnecessary details. What's more, mercifully no moron-oriented Hollywood sentimentality is dragged in to undermine its effectiveness.
From the very beginning, ex neo-expressionist painter Julian Schnabel, famous for huge canvasses, imbues the film with vibrant colors and stylish "strokes". Everything begins with a highly artsy-craftsy scene which heralds the coming of the striking leitmotif: a close-up of a little boy, totally naked, playing with mud in a squalid hole surrounded by an incredible beauty. He's naked because he possesses no clothes; he's playing with mud because he owns no toys. From now on, his childhood in absolute poverty, his youthful idealism to join to rebels against Batista regime, the discovery of his writing talents as well as his homosexuality, his sufferings during repression and persecution period just after Cuban Revolution, his arrest and brutal imprisonement at El Morro, his escape to the U.S. during the 1980 Mariel Boatlifts and his last crash as the life is drained out of him in NYC, all told in a sense giving the taste of beauty and aesthetics of a poetry.
My only complaint is that although the main language of the film is English, some scenes are shot in English, some Cuban-Spanish. For a film with such helluva visual and emotional moments in exotic backdrops of Cuba, the spoken English moments are pointless and undercut the film's effectiveness. It would be better if the film was served entirely in Spanish.