Touted as a biographical drama, Pablo Larraín’s Neruda avoids being a cradle to grave account. With a very small part of Pablo Neruda’s life portrayed as a morally ambiguous cat and mouse chase. here, the portrait of Chilean poet and politician Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco) intertwines with that of an invented character who desperately tries to grab the spotlight.
Taking the poet’s life from 1948, we follow him as he flees Chile after his impeachment as senator by President González Videla (Alfredo Castro). In a time when communists were being thrown in jail across Chile, we move from house to house as Neruda leave clues for the Police Prefect assigned to arrest him, Oscar Peluchonneau (Gael Garcia Bernal).
Larraín’s tackling of Neruda’s character piques our interest, with the entire scenario narrated by the fictional Peluchonneau creating scope to look at the poet in a way that takes a step back from familiar frenzied fandom. Gnecco is a dependable Neruda, painted as a lofty liberal with a penchant for women who ultimately sees the chase as a means of reinventing himself as a literary legend.
We don't necessarily love Neruda, nor is there any need. Rather, we are supposed to see him as flawed, drunk on his own power, on his own poetry, as those around him pander to him and risk their lives.At times, Bernal’s Peluchonneau risks becoming a parody – Inspector Clouseau springs to mind. But perhaps that is the point here – after all, this is a fictitious detective. There are moments of tenderness when he questions his background and longs to present an image of himself to the world, like Neruda, as a hero, a saviour, steeped in romance. Yet his realisation that he is merely another character in the story, far from being a poetic revelation, simply makes the film humourous in a way that is perhaps unintended.
For what is quite an exciting period in the poet's life, Neruda is never a pacy thriller. The greatest achievement of the film is the way in which it brings Neruda’s poetry alive. Dizzy tracking shots follow the protagonist around, as if we are chasing the pursuer who, in turn, is chasing Neruda. Shallow depths of field put the characters centre stage, with these shots refreshingly balanced by the staggeringly picturesque landscape as the pursuit comes to an end. At this point it is as if we are opening up to the wider story – untold here, but set to continue for many more years.
Words by Imogen Robinson
Neruda is out in UK cinemas from March 27th