Painter/sculptor Julian Schnabel, whose last film was 1996’s Basquiat
, turns here to the life of Reinaldo Arenas, Cuban poet and novelist, persecuted for his homosexuality by Castro’s government and ultimately exiled to the United States, where he died of AIDS in 1996. It’s an epic tale, but director Schnabel never gets a handle on it. The film is as rambling and shapeless as an unedited documentary; Schnabel either doesn’t understand the principles of drama or considers them beneath him. It’s not easy to follow, either: the dialogue switches at random from thickly-accented English to Spanish with illegible subtitles. Javier Bardem plays Arenas with diffidence, at times mumbling so low that it’s hard to tell which language he’s speaking. Other characters, in Schnabel’s meandering treatment, hardly register at all.