Senator Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco) finds himself having to go on the run after his accusations that the government have betrayed the Communist Party lead to his impeachment by President González Videla. Accompanied by his painter wife Delia del Carril (Mercedes Morán), Neruda is forced into hiding when police officer Oscar Peluchonneau (Gael García Bernal) is assigned to find and arrest him.
Neruda may feature the real-life character of Pablo Neruda (real name Ricardo Eliécer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto) but the film isn’t by any means a biopic of the politician and poet’s life. While it does interweave some facts from Neruda’s life, and the general story of Neruda being forced into hiding did happen, the way it transpires in this film is more a work of fantasy than anything else. Anyone who has seen any previous films directed by Pablo Larraín would expect nothing less than an ambiguous, sometimes confusing but always compelling experience.
Larraín and screenwriter Guillermo Calderón draw on two very obvious sources to tell this cat and mouse story: Les Misérables and the Pink Panther movies. Peluchonneau definitely brings to mind a mix of Javert and Inspector Clouseau. Gael García Bernal plays him in a subtle but powerful way bringing out plenty of unexpected humour as Peluchonneau becomes consumed by his pursuit of Neruda. Essentially Peluchonneau is the main character in the film as he narrates the story from the start and the majority of what we see if from his perspective.
The third act of Neruda is where things start to get incredibly confusing. In fact I have no shame in admitting that I had to skip back a few times fearing I’d missed something. Larraín very purposely messes with reality so at times you’re not entirely sure what is real and what isn’t. The last 15 minutes proved to be a real head-scratcher but I won’t divulge what takes place as it would seriously spoil the movie for you.
Alongside Gael Garcia Bernal’s excellent performance, Luis Gnecco is stunning as Pablo Neruda. He’s an incredibly expressive actor and he embodies Neruda so richly that you get the impression he’s not far from how the real man actually was. Neruda was by all accounts a complex man and I felt that Gnecco got under his skin, giving a strong performance.
The Blu-ray edition of the film is definitely the definitive version. Larraín’s stunning direction is captured best in high-definition and he packs in gorgeous landscapes, inventive camera work and striking imagery. The only part I found distracting was the moments when characters are travelling in their cars. I’m sure it’s an intentional throwback to the film noir classics of the 40s and 50s but it looks so false that it let down the otherwise strong visuals.
The special features on the Blu-ray include BFI’s Maria Delgardo interviewing Pablo Larraín and Gael García Bernal and a theatrical trailer for the movie.
Neruda perhaps isn’t the straightforward biopic you may be expecting and it sure is a challenging film. You’ll learn little about Neruda other than the main facts you probably know and his poetry takes a backseat to the political aspect of his life. Neruda is a film that you have to work at and it could well leave some viewers baffled by the time the credits roll. I found the film to be compelling, incredibly stylish and expertly acted and directed. Repeat viewings are necessary to fully appreciate the film but if you like your cinema to be challenging, Neruda comes highly recommended.
Cast: Gael García Bernal, Luis Gnecco, Alfredo Castro, Mercedes Morán Director: Pablo Larraín Writer: Guillermo Calderón Certificate: 15 Duration: 107 mins Released By: Network Releasing Release Date: 10th July 2017