Gael Garcia Bernal, Luis Gnecco, Mercedes Moran
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“Singularly winning mixture of irony, semi-parody and powerfully moving drama from the director of Jackie.”
The Chilean poet Pablo Neruda was an eventual (and thoroughly deserving) winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature – and a lifelong communist. It’s that political allegiance which is the cause of his problems in this remarkable tale. It’s loosely based on true events, and when it does stray from the facts the departures are artistically vindicated.
The year is 1948, and Neruda (Luis Gnecco, who appeared in the director’s previous film, No) is a senator in a coalition government. He’s also hugely venerated for his verse, not only by the artistic elite but also by the downtrodden peasants and workers whose cause he espouses. When the new president turns against the Leftists, Neruda goes into hiding, and the story becomes – at least nominally – focused on his pursuit by a policeman called Oscar Peluchonneau (Gael Garcia Bernal, who also appeared in No). Peluchonneau is a nerdish figure – “Half moron, half idiot”, as he’s memorably described – but supplies some pithily cynical voice-over commentary.
Not, it should be stressed, that Neruda himself (as depicted here) is a remotely unblemished hero. He’s a mess of contradictions, horrible to his wife, and highly unattractive in various other ways: vain, narcissistic and arguably hypocritical… yet also brave, idealistic and genuinely passionate in his convictions.
At its best, Neruda is sublime. Its singularly winning mixture of irony, semi-parody and powerfully moving drama makes it a kind of cinematic oxymoron. It attains a level of playful seriousness which sometimes feels almost magical, and it looks gorgeous – especially in the snowbound mountain scenes. (The visual style is so engaging, indeed, that it makes the improbable intersection of hyper-realism and film noir seem like a perfect fit.) Best of all, the script is uncompromisingly intelligent. Don’t miss it.