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.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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June 2024