Neruda (2016) – Film Review

neruda film review

Director: Pablo Larrain
Cast: Gael García Bernal, Luis Gnecco, Mercedes Morán
Certificate: 15

by Roger Crow

Acclaimed film maker Pablo Larrain has already given us one of this year’s most divisive films in Jackie, the movie which generated Oscar-nominated work from star Natalie Portman and composer Mica Levi. Alas, Portman’s bizarre accent as JFK’s wife stuck out like a sore thumb. No such problems with Neruda, the subtitled biopic of Chilean poet and Communist Senator Pablo Neruda.

The plot: after opposing President Gabriel González Videla’s administration, and being threatened with arrest, Neruda (Luis Gnecco) goes underground and teases the authorities by appearing in public venues or leaving evidence of his movements. Much of the drama centres on Police Chief Oscar Peluchonneaun (Gael García Bernal) tracking the Nobel prize-winning wordsmith down.

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“Seduced by the style”

Following an opening scene in the most lavish lavatory seen on film, and a gloriously exotic party, Larrain features huge chunks of dialogue between characters, his camera circling them. It looks great, with gorgeous photography and period costumes which help evoke the era. Some awful back screen projection lets things down, unless it’s intended to be ropy like the stock scenery in Natual Born Killers and Pulp Fiction.

Exposition should be carried out during action scenes, even if it’s as simple as someone cooking a meal. Here people stand around chatting for ages, and there’s far too many similar scenes that grate.

As the drama unfolds, I savour some of Guillermo Calderón’s dialogue; compare it to landmark Italian political drama The Conformist and am seduced by the style. There’s a dreamy quality to the film which washes over me, but while it’s intriguing to discover a chapter of history and a character I know little about, Neruda is as emotionally distant as Jackie.

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“In for a treat”

There’s so much going on, but Larrain keeps the audience at arm’s length, teasing us with engaging visuals. The look is more interesting than the characters. Fans of the eponymous protagonist will get a lot more from the movie than me, so if films about Chilean poets are your cup of tea, or glass of Mote con Huesillo to be more regionally authentic, then chances are you’re in for a treat.

Larrain and star Bernal were due to collaborate on a remake of Scarface, but when that fell through, they joined forces for this instead. Let’s hope if that ever sees the light of day there’s more action and less talking.


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