In the latter half of 2016, Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín garnered international acclaim for a little film named Jackie, a stirring portrait of grief endured by the titular Jackie Kennedy, following the brutal assassination of her husband. As expected, Jackie ticked the appropriate boxes (including nominations for Best Performance by an Actress In a Leading Role, Best Achievement in Costume Design and Best Original Score) in order to potentially escort Larraín and 20th Century Fox to a swift victory, at the 2017 Oscars. Alas, Jackie was snubbed. And amidst stories of prohibited telephone lobbying and of course, the fiasco that was Best Picture, an unfortunate shadow was cast over the smaller, problematic, yet personal Neruda – Larraín’s first film of 2016.
Chile, 1948. Legendary poet, lothario and opinionated Communist Senator, Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco), is at the height of his powers. But upon hearing that the administration of President Gabriel González has outlawed communism within Chile, Neruda rises against his detractors, fiercely denouncing such an injustice. An arrest warrant is swiftly issued, and Neruda is forced to lay low. Defiant to the end, Neruda taunts the government by actively appearing amongst the public, utilising a series of ingenious disguises and seemingly endless tricks. Enraged by Neruda’s insolence, the government enlist the help of Oscar Peluchonneau (Gael García Bernal), Chile’s Chief of the Investigations Police, to pursue and capture Neruda at all costs.
In complete honesty, Neruda is a baffling, yet wholly fascinating piece of art. At the heart of its narrative lies a thrilling chase, between two equally driven men who are determined to succeed, no matter the cost. Yet for a large portion of its running time, Neruda is an amalgamation of a series of genres, including (but not limited to) the western and arthouse film. The film is, for the most part, a thriller à la Terrence Malick. It possesses a dream-like quality which frequently provokes a sense of confusion – Did ANY of this happen? Or is it fictionalised? – similar to the far more accessible and emotionally stirring Chet Baker biopic, Born To Be Blue. But ultimately, its blend of fact, fiction and various genres provokes a sense that Guillermo Calderón’s admittedly inventive screenplay, is forcefully attempting to rewrite the code of the traditional biopic, by throwing all that he can into the mix.
Calderón’s screenplay is risky, yet it is clear that he lives and breathes Pablo Neruda. From its poetic narration and unrestricted lyrical scope, Calderón commits a lengthy poem worthy of the legend, to the screen. The film’s results are not always successful, as poetry and film are two distinctly different pieces of art – the latter requires a tightly paced narrative in order to develop characters… etc. Neruda can often prove to be an exhausting and confusing 107 minutes. Viewers who are unfamiliar with the famed poet and his political activities (like myself), may be left very far behind. Whilst others will find the film to be educational and frequently beautiful. Regardless of its faults, Neruda features two commendable performances from Gnecco and Bernal, in addition to an up-and-coming director with some serious cinematic style.
Neruda is out on DVD 10th July!