By Wyndham Hacket Pain @Wyndhamhp
With all the attention around Jackie – the Jackie Kennedy biopic currently in cinemas – it would be easy to forget that Chilean director Pablo Larraín has another equally interesting film ready for release. Pablo Neruda, a poet and politician who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971, is as compelling a central figure as the former First Lady and more than worthy of our time and attention.
Set in a conflicted post-war Chile, Neruda centres around Senator and poet Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco) who is impeached by President González Videla (Alfredo Castro) for accusing the government of betraying the Communist Party. He is subsequently forced into hiding, as he attempts to evade policeman Oscar Peluchonneau (Gael García Bernal) who has been assigned to arrest the poet. Neruda leaves clues for the inspector in an attempt to dramatize his escape from Chile and create his own mythology.
The film, in part, takes inspiration from Canto General, an epic collection of poems that Neruda wrote while in exile. The collection is vivid and full of flights of fancy. Rather than rejecting the poems emotive language and tone, director Pablo Larraín embraces it to create a film that matches their dreamlike and lucid feel. The script is very much a synergy of biography and poetry, as the narrative blends fact with invention, shown by the character of the policeman who is made up.
There is never a sense that Neruda is trying to con the audience and many of the best scenes contain discussions about how the exiled poet invented Oscar Peluchonneau for his own means. Where many biopics overlook the inaccuracies in their scripts, Larraín utilises the need to make tales cinematic to create a narrative that is both compelling and aware of its own constraints.
Pablo Larraín is the latest in an increasingly long line of Latin and South American directors to come to prominence over recent years, and brings a poetic realist style to the film that is well known within Chilean literature. The cinematography by Sergio Armstrong is beautifully shot and has a graceful quality to it. The film effortlessly combines multiple styles together to create images that look simultaneously reminiscent of 1950s melodrama and noir. Neruda represents Larraín’s third biopic, alongside No and Jackie, and there is a sense that he is very comfortable with this format even though each feature is dramatically different.
Neruda is an interesting and admirably attempt to reimagine the biopic, though it does have a couple minor shortcomings. The plot can meander and lose focus, especially as the policeman’s hunt for the fugitive poet turns into a cat-and-mouse chase. This is particularly prevalent towards the end, where there are a couple false climaxes and an ending that feels slightly repetitive.
Neruda makes a number of bold moves and for the most part they are successful. At its centre it is a profound acknowledgement of the power of storytelling. The stories we tell define who we are. Neruda does not just tell a story but questions the foundations upon which it is built.
Neruda is on general release from Friday April 7th.