Film Review: Pablo Larraín's 'Neruda' (2017)
Not So Popular's film connoisseur Catherine Bridgman reviews Pablo Larraín's 'Neruda' ahead of its release on 7th April 2017. She unpicks this new portrait of Chile's iconic poet and short-lived senator.
Recently director Pablo Larraín’s name has been on everyone’s lips due to his Oscar-nominated ‘Jackie’. However, the film isn’t his only biopic of 2016 and not even his only nominated film. Larraín’s ‘Neruda’, which captures the life of the Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, was submitted as Chile’s entry for ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ at the Academy Awards – a busy year for Larraín but unfortunately he came away empty handed. Nevertheless, ‘Neruda’ is a powerful piece of work which addresses the biopic from an angle which breathes life into a form that can often feel stilted, particularly when people may already have a tight grasp on the real-life story.
This was not the case for me and Pablo Neruda. I went in knowing absolutely nothing about the Chilean poet and short-lived senator, which I found in this case only enriched my enjoyment of the piece. For people (like me) who don’t know much about him, the film explores the part of his life in which he flees from the persecution of the Chilean government after criticising President Gabriel González Videla and joining the Communist Party.
What I found interesting about ‘Neruda’ is the way in which Larraín chooses to tell the story through Óscar Peluchonneau, a police officer attempting to apprehend the fleeing Neruda. His inner monologue echoes Neruda’s poetry and lusts for the kind of fame brought about by the greatness that the poet exudes. Like some of the best antagonists, Peluchuonneau regards Neruda with a perfect mixture of respect, jealousy and disdain. By the end, we’re left questioning the reliability of this awe-struck narrator in a film centred around a flamboyant and ostentatious artist who clearly knows, though does not overestimate, his own artistic and political worth.
The performances from Luis Gnecco (Neruda) and Mercedes Morán (his adored and abused second wife, Delia del Carril) were warm and fabulous, but I was oddly struck by the almost caricatured performance of Gael García Bernal as Peluchuonneau, which brought a character to life that was likely nothing like that in realty (though I'm the last person who might know).
The film is beautifully shot, beginning with conversational scenes which flow abstractly and seamlessly from location to location, and ending with wide shots of threatening peaks covered in a blanket of snow that never seems to end.
Having said all this, ‘Neruda’ did try my patience a little in terms of its length. At 107 minutes, it’s not particularly long for a film of this kind – but it felt it. Even during sweeping mountain scenes, I found myself wondering when it was going to finally wrap up. A minor fault, however, in an otherwise amorously captivating watch.
DIRECTOR’S BIOGRAPHY - PABLO LARRAÍN
Pablo Larraín was born in Santiago, Chile, in 1976. He is a founding partner of Fabula, a production company dedicated to film, television, advertising and production services.
In 2005, he directed his first feature-length film, Fuga. He then directed Tony Manero (2007) which premiered at the Directors’ Fortnight of the 2008 Cannes Film Festival. Post Mortem is his third feature-length film. It premiered in Official Competition at the Venice Film Festival in September of 2010.
In 2010, he directed Prófugos, HBO’s first ever series produced in Chile.
The following year, Pablo Larraín directed the film No, which premiered at the Directors’ Fortnight of the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The second season of HBO’s Prófugos was aired in September 2013.
The Club premiered in Official Competition at the 2015 Berlin International Film Festival where it was awarded the Grand Jury Prize Silver Bear. The film was also a Nominee at the Golden Globes for Best Foreign Language Film. Neruda is his sixth feature film. In 2016, Pablo Larraín also directed his first English speaking feature, Jackie, starring Natalie Portman.