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Biopics about writers are always a dicey proposition — authors live or die on the strength of their words, but how do you incorporate them effectively in a visual medium? Attempts this year include the documentary “Beatnik,” which featured straight-to-camera readings, and “William Burroughs’ Wife,” which largely traded on the salacious personal lives of the beatnik literary circle.

Director — and artist — Julian Schnabel aims for a seamless flow between text and imagery in his biopic of dissident Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas, “Before Night Falls.” Schnabel’s film is a bold experiment in impressionistic cinema: Arenas’ life is recounted in a blur of images, as if passing before his eyes at the moment of death, a haze of poetry, dream and memory. The look on his mother’s face, a lover’s touch or a rainstorm are given as much weight as the publication of his first novel or his escape from prison.

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