Undoubtedly, Pablo Larraín is the most exciting Chilean filmmaker working today. He has been carving his mark in the contemporary world cinema through beautiful artistic works such as “Tony Manero”, “Post Mortem”, “No”, and “The Club”.
Last year, he filmed a couple of interesting biopics, which regardless the bold approach and peculiar vision, had different impacts on me. If “Jackie” impressed me most through the stylish visuals, “Neruda” strongly hit me with its poetic narrative and passionate conception.
Written by Guillermo Calderón and starring Gael García Bernal and Luis Gnecco in the main roles, the film adopts the qualities of a detective story painted with lyrical hues and bolstered by a cat-and-mouse game taken to philosophical extremes.
In the late 40s, Pablo Neruda (Gnecco), an earthy and provocative poet, throws out passionate words that are food for the poor and strength for the oppressed. In addition to being the voice of the Chilean people, he’s also a proud militant of the Communist Party and Senator, projecting his strong voice against the brutal anti-communist repression led by the president Gabriel Gonzalez Videla (Alfredo Castro).
Forced to abandon his splendid house, a stage for many wild nocturnal parties in the company of intellectuals, aristocrats, and often criminals, Neruda hides in remote rural areas in Argentina, where he tries to escape the astute and relentless inspector Oscar Peluchonneau (Bernal), who tries to hunt him down as he ardently narrates this story. At the same time that Peluchonneau eagerly dreams with the glory of the capture, he often vacillates in his true inner self by showing great admiration and curiosity for the poet’s work and personality. Nonetheless, he focuses on his mission with obstinate determination without exteriorizing what he feels or thinks.
In turn, the incorrigible Neruda is not afraid to expose himself to dangers. He regularly visits bars where he drinks and interacts with women and artists. The ones he can really trust are longtime lover Delia del Carril (Mercedes Morán) and the famous Pablo Picasso (Emilio Gutiérrez Caba) who clandestinely takes his words outside.
Obsession remains one of Larrain’s favorite topics and here, he had the chance to explore it with a mix of dark and wry tones, interesting dialogues, and attractively composed settings framed by the lens of his habitual cinematographer Sergio Armstrong.
“Neruda” is a fascinating piece of cinema, an elegiac and exhilarating chant of refined artistry that reaches the sky not only through the faultless performances by Gnecco and Bernal, but also through an engrossing direction.
ABOUT FILIPE FREITAS
Filipe Freitas is a New York-based Portuguese film critic and jazz music writer.
He’s the founder and lead critic of Always Good Movies film website, launched in 2010, and co-founder of JazzTrail, site that explores the vibrant NY Jazz Scene. He has a background in electrical engineering, a field he quit in 2012 to follow his dreams.