Movies, Drama
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The famous Chilean poet comes to life in an unusual drama with literary ambitions and a wavering focus.

Director Pablo Larraín is already having a stellar year with his psychologically adventurous grief drama, Jackie. So the fact that he has another movie for us, equally insightful on tricky political terrain, is impressive in itself. Despite its title, Neruda is no mere birth-to-death biopic of the revolutionary Chilean poet; rather, it serves the spirit of its subject more intimately, weaving a tapestry of fact and fantasy that, while occasionally too clever, gets us closer to a literary appreciation (rare for any film).

Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco), his country’s most famous celebrity, is on the run from right-wing goons when Larraín’s tale—from a witty screenplay by Guillermo Calderón—picks up in 1948. The poet’s long-suffering wife, Delia (Mercedes Morán), in hiding with him, tires of her husband’s egotistical rants and self-romanticizing nature: A champagne communist, Neruda rarely thinks of the people first but has plenty of time for nice clothes, adoring women and kvetching. But Neruda’s most fascinating figure is its largely invented predator, Óscar Peluchonneau (Gael García Bernal, dropping the film in his pocket and running away with it). He’s a fedora-wearing inspector obsessed with detective novels: a comically insignificant doofus whose pursuit of the great man ennobles him.

The conceit is a gently critical one, suggesting that only Neruda could envision the kind of cryptic Bertoluccian antagonist that his flight into exile deserved. As Peluchonneau nears his quarry, Neruda reminds us of the very real stakes at hand, with a scene spent in the company of Augusto Pinochet, the fascist waiting in the wings. Tonally, it’s a touch awkward (like the movie as a whole), but Larraín’s endgame set on a snowy mountainside is as abstract as the final moments of The Shining—a film that’s also about the life of the mind.

Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf

By: Joshua Rothkopf


Release details

Rated: R
Release date: Friday December 16 2016
Duration: 107 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Pablo Larraín
Cast: Gael García Bernal
Alfredo Castro
Luis Gnecco
Mercedes Morán
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