The story of Chile's Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda and his flight from conservative government forces.
Starring Luis Gnecco and Gabriel Garcia Bérnal
CHILEAN DRAMA #NERUDA
So far Pablo Larraín (NO / JACKIE) has barely put a foot wrong. Every feature he directs seems to build on the previous one and improve his skills and, in the case of his latest film NERUDA, Larraín has created something approaching a masterpiece. The film focuses on a short period in the life of Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco), the Chilean Nobel Prize-winning poet whose work dealt with themes of surrealism, history, politics and love, and who wasn’t beyond including autobiographical elements in his texts. In 1948, when Neruda was a senator for the Chilean Communist Party, President Videla (Alfredo Castro) outlawed the Party and issued a warrant for Neruda’s arrest. Waiting for the right opportunity to flee the country, the poet went into hiding with his Argentinian wife Delia del Carril (Mercedes Morán) in Valparaíso, a city on the coast to the west of Santiago.
During this period he was relentlessly pursued by a police inspector, Óscar Peluchonneau (Gael García Bernal), who was determined to put the ‘enemy of the state’ behind bars. His initial plan to escape Chile by boat thwarted by the relentless cop, Neruda eventually managed to escape over the Andes to Argentina in March 1949. This cat-and-mouse set up makes for a finely structured work that is so much more than a film about the protagonists; at times it’s debatable just who is the hunter and who the hunted – Neruda toys with his tormentor while being tormented by him and the men become cyphers of the larger political forces at work. They need each other. Playing fast and loose with the historical facts (this is no ordinary bio-pic, Peluchonneau is a constructed character), it’s a film portraying the life, politics and resilience of men in troubled times.
Neruda was considered by Gabriel Garcia Márquez as, “the greatest poet of the 20th century in any language”. He was a mix of refinement and more earthly desires, but was a strong advocate for the rights of his fellow men and for his country, which he believed was being systematically destroyed by oligarchs and Fascists, the very forces that ultimately led to the Pinochet regime. Neruda the film deals with an important piece of Chile’s history and one of its finest writers and warriors; in fact, when on the run Neruda wrote much of what many consider to be his greatest work, Canto General. While Australian audiences may not be familiar with this particular slice of Latin American history, they should be impressed by Calderón’s brilliant script and by Federico Jusid’s fabulous score. The award-winning production design by Estefania Larrain (no relation) is magnificent too. Look for the scene of a parliamentary session held in a men’s urinal early in the film – it’s a delight.
Of its almost poetic composition, the director has said, “For us, Neruda is a false biopic. It’s a biopic that isn’t really a biopic because we don’t really take the task of making a portrait of the poet that seriously. Simply because that’s impossible”. Larraín continues, “We invented a world, just as Neruda invented his. The film we made is more a ‘Nerudian’ film than it is a film about Neruda, or perhaps it’s both. We created a novel that we would have liked Neruda to read”.