Blending fact with invention, it tells the story of a confrontation between an artist (Chilean poet Pablo Neruda) and an emerging dictatorship. Luis Gnecco and Gael García Bernal star.
“Neruda,” Pablo Larraín’s semifantastical biopic, is a warmhearted film about a hotblooded man that is nonetheless troubled by a subtle, perceptible chill.
Blending fact with invention, it tells the story of a confrontation between an artist (Chilean poet Pablo Neruda) and an emerging dictatorship, and more generally illuminates the endless struggle between political authority and the creative imagination. For anyone who believes that poetry and democracy spring from the same source and provoke the same enemies, this movie provides both encouragement and warning.
‘Neruda,’ with Gael García Bernal, Luis Gnecco, Mercedes Morán. Directed by Pablo Larraín, from a screenplay by Guillermo Calderón. 107 minutes. Rated R for sexuality/nudity and some language. In Spanish and French, with English subtitles. Sundance Cinemas (21+).
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It starts in 1948, with Neruda (Luis Gnecco), a prominent leftist politician as well as a literary celebrity, in a rhetorical war with Chile’s president, Gabriel González Videla, an erstwhile ally in the process of moving from left to right. When Videla bans the Communist Party, Neruda — who represents that party in the Chilean Senate — goes from opposition figure to outlaw. Much of “Neruda” is a shaggy-dog cat-and-mouse game, as Neruda and his wife, Delia (Mercedes Morán), are pursued by Oscar Peluchonneau (Gael García Bernal), a preening police inspector who stakes his professional honor on his ability to track down the country’s most famous fugitive.
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Peluchonneau is an invented character. Whippet-thin and strait-laced, he stands in dour contrast to Neruda, a plump sensualist with a robust sense of mischief and appetite for pleasure. With and without Delia, the poet manages to stay one step ahead of his nemesis, executing escapes that seem equally inspired by Hitchcock and those Peter Sellers “Pink Panther” movies.
Neruda also composes “Canto General,” his great, Whitmanesque work on the glories and miseries of Latin America. Pages are committed to memory by workers and peasants. Their popularity and Neruda’s easygoing populism are a rebuke to the arrogance of the ruling class and the Chilean state.
Larraín (“Tony Manero,” “No,” “Jackie”) invites us to believe that history is on the side of the poets and the humanists, and that art will make fools of politicians and policemen. But he is also aware, as Pablo Neruda was, that history sometimes has other plans.