Hot on the heels of his first English-language film Jackie, Chilean director Pablo Larrain has another striking biographical drama opening in theaters. Neruda paints a vivid portrait of Chile’s Nobel prize winner, the illustrious but controversial poet Pablo Neruda.
Larrain and screenwriter Guillermo Calderon, who collaborated on The Club, have taken a decidedly nonrealistic approach to their subject. The story opens in 1948, when Neruda is a senator who is forced into hiding when the winds of change cause his president to turn against Communism. Neruda (embodied by Luis Gnecco) revels in life’s sensual pleasures—with his wife’s tolerant approval—and his romantic poems make him a hero to his people. In fleeing, and ultimately forced into exile, he becomes an even more attractive figure to his legion of followers. The government cannot smear him or undo his reputation because he is loved.
Hot on his trail is a comically serious policeman named Peluchonneau (Gael Garcia Bernal), whose determination to capture the poet is matched only by his desire to be recognized, even lionized, for his single-minded dedication. This whimsical character is a kind of absurdist Javert and personifies the overall tone of Larrain’s film: based on real life but poetically soaring above it.
Neruda offers a captivating and unusual approach to a famous person’s life. I know little about the poet but I fell under this movie’s sway. How much of it is literally true I cannot say; all I know is how it made me feel. Neruda is a celebration of life and the power a great artist can wield. I loved watching it.