Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín (No, El Club) makes a welcome return to our screens with a complex biopic about one of Chile’s most famous artists, the poet and politician Pablo Neruda. Unlike his most recent work, the poised and controlled Jackie, Neruda is very different in tone, filled with energy, fantasy and deliberate contradiction, much like the figure at the heart of this story.
"Filled with energy, fantasy and deliberate contradiction..."
When Chile sided with America in the early period of the Cold War, self-proclaimed communist Neruda (Luis Gnecco) was declared an enemy of the state, threatened with jail and forced into hiding. Never one to cow to authority, Neruda and his wife Marcedes (Mercedes Morán) refuse to go quietly and an elaborate game of cat and mouse ensues between the colourful poet and the bumbling police inspector Óscar Peluchonneau (Gael García Bernal) in charge of his case. Aware that his persecution has increased his profile with the people, Neruda shrewdly uses it as a platform for promoting his work and ideas while gamely taunting the lawman pursuing him.
Larraín’s work is always surprising and this film, shot and constructed with the look of a film noir but infused with humour and surrealist moments, is definitely not your average pot boiler. Neruda tackles serious themes of political power, national identity, and myth-making but is infused with such bravado that surely even its namesake would have been proud.