Painter Julian Schnabel serves up a
deft blend of fact and fiction in his screen adaptation of Cuban poet/novelist
Renaldo Arenas' frank expose of the persecution of gays in the first two
decades of the Cuban Revolution. Schnabel gets an expressive performance from
the Spanish heart throb Javier Bardem as Arenas, reinventing the bio-pic genre
to depict the rags to rags saga of a resolutely non-conformist writer, who
managed to get only one of his eight novels published on his native island and
who died of AIDS, in poverty in New York City.
Arenas believed that the true Cuban
Revolution was the sexual awakening of the island nation's young men – who
increasingly found each other on beaches, in toilets, on crowded buses, in or out
of uniform – as if Fidel Castro's cries for order produced a kind of neurotic
machismo that was in itself a homo-aphrodisiac.
In a masterful casting coup,
Schnabel gives us a double scoop of Johnny Depp: first as the saucy prison
prostitute, Bon Bon, followed by the sinisterly sex Lieutenant Victor who makes
a big show of stroking his dick while extracting a phony confession from
Arenas. Schnabel hints that Bon Bon and Victor are two sides of the same
character, both wielding the same big boot on the neck of Cuban liberty.
With a talented supporting cast,
including early screen appearances by Diego Luna and Olivier Martinez, the DVD
features include widescreen, director and cast commentary, a making of short
and a rare interview with the late Renaldo Arenas.