Neruda: Pablo Larrain’s Take on the Noted Poet and Politician

Pablo Larraín, the vastly talented Chilean director, has made two interesting films this year, both fact-inspired.

Neruda world premiered at the 2015 Cannes Film Fest, in May, though inexplicably it was placed in the Directors Fortnight series (it should have been in the Main Competition)

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Jackie, his acclaimed biopic starring Natalie Portman in an Oscar-caliber Performance as the First Lady, world premiered at the Venice Film Fest to great acclaim.

Weaving an engrossing meta-fictional fable, which defies the conventions of the Hollywood biopic, Neruda is set around the 1948 manhunt for celebrated poet and politician Pablo Neruda, who goes underground when Chile outlaws communism.

The film unfolds as a cat and mouth thriller.  Neruda is obsessively pursued by an ambitious police inspector (Gael García Bernal). hoping to make a name for himself by capturing the famous fugitive.

The eventful and unorthodox life of the Nobel Prize–winning poet, politician, committed communist, unapologetic hedonist, and Chilean cultural icon Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco) provides a rich ground for cinematic exploration.

Larraín, considered to be Chile’s most inventive and provocative contemporary filmmaker, takes a wholly unique approach to the genre of biopic in general and his famous countryman’s life and work in particular.

The tale is largely set during the poet’s sojourn underground in the late 1940s, after the Chilean president decides to outlaw communism as a party in 1948.

As a result, Neruda and his artist wife Delia (Mercedes Morán) are forced into hiding. In many respects, Neruda both complains about and benefits from life on the run.

While life on the run holds little charm for the cultured pair, this also proves to be a time of prolific output for the poet. Neruda’s ideologically charged poems rouse the people and give voice to the voiceless.
Providing counterpoint to Neruda, Larraín introduces a second protagonist: an invented character named Óscar Peluchonneau (Gael García Bernal, who previously starred in Larraín’s acclaimed NO), an ambitious police inspector hoping to make a name for himself by capturing the celebrity fugitive.

Larraín uses the cat-and-mouse game between these two adversaries to reflect on notions of identity and character, as Peluchonneau strives to escape from his fictional origins by tracking down the “real” Neruda.
Elegant and beguiling, the film offers sort of a Nerudian vision of its eponymous protagonist. It’s a metafictional fable that blends historical recreation with literary and cinematic fabrication–in other words, it’s a feature made by an artist.

Pushing the limits of the biography genre, Larraín provides a stimulating meditation on the split–the great, inevitable divide–between the real person and the public persona, the private man and the public artist.