Review: Neruda

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DIR/WRI: Pablo Larraín • PRO: Rebecca O’Flanagan, Robert Walpole • DOP: Cathal Watters • ED: John O’Connor • DES: Kathy Strachan • MUS: John McPhillips • CAST: Fionn O’Shea, Nicholas Galitzine, Andrew Scott

 

I hadn’t seen any of Pablo Larraín’s other films, but I knew who he was, he’s been on my radar for a while. Chinese whispers from so and so said he was a director to keep an eye on. And rumor had it Neruda was pretty good, so with that, I signed up. Neruda marks Pablo Larraín’s seventh feature including NO and more recently the multiple Oscar nominee Jackie.

Set during the early post war WW2 period, the film follows the titular Pablo Neruda, a controversial public figure in Chilean politics.  Neruda was a powerful voice, a strong leftist politician and poet who had the love and respect of the working people. Neruda’s an hypnotic, taxing, dense, moving, poetic, and ultimately rewarding piece of filmmaking if your open to it.  But Larraín doesn’t water the content down for the audience; instead, he manages to keep it potent, and, what’s further still, accessible. He magically filters the experience of this complicated episode of Chilean politics straight through the senses of Neruda himself. Through Neruda we are invited into the world of hip leftist communism, pre-beat trendsetters, artists,  activists, staunch leftists, politicians and criminals, a tight-knit motley crew all together in the hothouse of Chilean history.

When Neruda is designated a threat to Chile by his government who’ve given into American pressure, he becomes a marked man forced on the run. Thus igniting a cat and mouse witch hunt for him throughout Chile. We follow Neruda as he hides out in cramped quarters, and high in hills, banished from public life. We’re presented with the blurry line which defines Neruda between his politics and his poetry. It’s a murky twilight zone but for Larraín it seems clear Neruda is a poet at heart.

Larraín’s perspective on Neruda is an allegorical mythic take and one that paints the man’s life as he lived it, through poetry, lavish beauty, and blind indulgence. And in doing so Larraín paints the myth of a man. Larraín masterfully shapes the film in the guise of a film noir/ detective story and utilizes this set-up as a romantic metaphor drawing the audience right into the man’s heart. The film merges fact with fiction in an act of cinematic alchemy. Larraín isn’t so much interested in a straightforward biographical account as he is in finding the essence of Neruda as a man, exposing his heart and soul and putting it on full display, the good, the bad, and everything else in between.

Larraín’s deft exploration of Neruda exposes the hypocrisy of his political philosophy and his desires which are at moments, at complete odds with one another. One of the most powerful moments for me is a scene in which a woman approaches Neruda in a luxurious restaurant and bitterly points out how removed he is from the plight of the working class. There’s a biting reality to this that seems to, for a moment at least, pierce the rose-tinted romance of Neruda’s vision.

Luis Gnecco illuminates his versatility as an artist, crafting a performance from history, overflowing with the hearty arrogance and bravado romance of the entertainer and provocateur. The naturalism of Gael Garcia Bernal’s characterization brings Oscar Peluchonneau from the path of deduction to the brink of ideological seduction with a candid humor and life.

Larraín’s strengths as a visual storyteller are magnetic to the extreme, his functional sense of composition is energetic and fresh and elevates the narrative to another level. One of the film’s most astonishing, but discrete features is the editorial tempo. Given the complexity of the material, the density of politics and poetry, Larraín masterfully controls the tempo simply, letting the film flow. The inherent value or meaning of the meta element of the story is entirely dependent on this. Pablo’s collaborator cinematographer Sergio Armstrong paints a rich geography of urban and rural landscapes, letting the ghostly snow-covered mountainscapes bleed into the light of our minds.

Pablo Larraín is an unquestionable cinematic visionary, and his only visible weakness as far as I’m concerned is that at times he can’t help reaching for a sense of sophistication and profundity, but it organically derives from the material so he’s bound by this for now, in truth, I’m probably nitpicking a bit. Viva Pablo.

Michael Lee

108 minutes

Neruda is released 21st April 2017

Neruda – Official Website

 

 

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Cinema Review: Gloria

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DIR: Sebastián Lelio • WRI: Sebastián Lelio,, Gonzalo Maza • PRO: Juan de Dios Larraín, Pablo Larraín • DOP: Benjamín Echazarreta • ED: Sebastián Lelio, Soledad Salfate  • DES: Marcela Urivi • CAST: Paulina García, Sergio Hernández, Diego Fontecilla, Fabiola Zamora

An august film focusing on the autumnal years of life, Gloria tells the story of a Chilean divorcée, coping with her loneliness, her grown-up children and the possibilities of new romance. It unfolds very slowly but ultimately satisfies.

 

We first see Gloria drinking alone in a bar filled with other middle-aged people and taking to dancing by herself. Pop music seems to fill a gap in her life: we see her singing along in her car to “silly love songs”, yearning for a new romance. She visits her children, Pedro, a violinist, and Ana, a yoga teacher, with whom she also takes classes. She also goes to laughter therapy, filling the lonely hours of her life outside work. A hairless cat appears in her apartment, but she’s determined not to become that kind of lonely lady. Gloria meets Rodolfo, who runs an amusement park, and a new romance begins.

 

Its central characters are people who have been married and have been very much in love. Rodolfo, divorced for just about a year, remains deeply involved with his ex-wife and his children. Gloria has moved on, still taking an interest in her children’s life, but capable of letting her daughter move to Sweden and thanking her ex-husband’s new partner when she arranges a family get-together. Gloria plays very much as a character study: its story is slight, dramatic events are few, and its success rests on the actors’ abilities.

 

Luckily, Paulina García, as Gloria, carries the film very well. It’s an honest, compassionate and engaging performance. She’s on screen almost constantly for the film’s running time, managing to give her character a depth that the script possibly couldn’t on its own. She certainly deserved the Silver Bear for Best Actress at Berlin earlier this year.

 

This is director Sebastián Lelio’s fourth feature, and his experience shows. The visual style suits its content. Much of it is shot in intimate close-ups, and the film is to be commended for its candid depiction of a mature sex life.

 

In the recent Enough Said, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and James Gandolfini, played divorcées coming together. Whereas that film played mostly for laughs, Gloria is a richer work, though its pace may irritate some. The lack of a neater narrative means that the script sometimes diverges unnecessarily into other subjects: a dinnertime discussion reveals little interesting about either contemporary Chilean society or the film’s characters.

 

Pablo Larraín, the director of last year’s Academy Award nominated No, which told the story of how Chile’s “Mad Men” helped end Pinochet’s dictatorship, served as a producer on Gloria, which now represents Chile in the forthcoming race for the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. García’s charming work may very well be enough to win over the Academy.

John Moran

110 mins

Gloria is released on 1st November 2013

Gloria  – Official Website

 

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Cinema Review: No

 

DIR: Pablo Larraín • WRI: Pedro Peirano • PRO: Daniel Marc Dreifuss, Juan de Dios Larraín, Pablo Larraín • DOP: Sergio Armstrong • ED: Andrea Chignoli •  CAST: Gael García Bernal, Alfredo Castro, Antonia Zegers
 

¡Viva la revolucion 4:3, amigos! After the dissemination of square televisions necessitated filmmakers to adapt aspect ratios of a wider persuasion, good old Academy Ratio is undergoing a minor artistic resurgence. The Artist re-appropriated it as part of its emulation of silent aesthetics, while Miguel Gomes similarly drew on its classical connotations for his nostalgic and intoxicating Tabu. Kelly Reichardt used it to differentiate her bleak, claustrophobic Meek’s Cutoff from any number of epically Cinemascope Westerns. And now we have No, whose director Pablo Larraín (Post Mortem, Tony Manero) uses 4:3 to make his film look like crap.At least it looks crap for a reason! The film is set in Chile in 1988, and tells the story of the television advertising campaign that was waged against dictator Pinochet’s referendum calling for a further extension to his already fifteen year long reign. Larrain uses the relatively primitive television technology of the time – a camera system called U-matic – with good cause. It does not make for the most beautifully cinematic feature film – there is constant ugly artefacting and the exposure basically freaks the hell out when it has to deal with direct sunlight. And yet it works, predominantly because archive footage is near seamlessly integrated with the ‘new’ footage. The film’s strikingly retro visualisation creates a memorable sense of place and time, and the eccentric format is pretty much completely justified. Not that every period film should suddenly start shooting in U-matic, of course.

 

The visuals may be non-traditional, but the story being told is a pretty straightforward one. Gael García Bernal plays René Saavedra, a composite of several real-life advertising creatives. After being persuaded to help craft the ‘No’ campaign, he decides to focus on a joyful, optimistic campaign to counter the Pinochet’s camp typically unconvincing propaganda. Initially the idea is met with resistance by the ‘Vote No’ camp, who think the campaign is downplaying the atrocities of the Pinochet regime. But it quickly becomes apparent the positivity is resonating, and it isn’t long before the dictator’s minions take a particular interest in the people behind the increasingly popular campaign.

 

It’s a fascinating history lesson about one of the few incidences where the language of advertising and selling was utilised to achieve a grander goal than the promotion of soft drinks. Bernal’s protagonist is an interesting one, dealing with the personal and social repercussions of his work. The story is told with the right blend of comedy and drama – examining an intriguing mini-revolution while not forgetting to have a bit of fun. There aren’t a whole lot of surprises in the way René’s story plays out, and the film could perhaps have probed the ethical and moral dilemmas of the situation in greater depth (the film does conclude on a satisfactorily bittersweet note). On the whole, though, No is never less than engaging and enjoyable. And those cheesy ‘No’ jingles really are strangely persuasive…

 

It’s actually somewhat of a shame the film’s  unusual presentation and subtitles will relegate this to small releases in arthouse theatres like the IFI. It’s an accessible and entertaining film that would undoubtedly appeal to those who enjoyed the likes of Argo. If you do happen to stumble across it, No is well worth a look as a distinctive way of telling a great story.

 

¡Viva!

 

Stephen McNeice

15A (see IFCO website for details)

117 mins

No is released on 8th February 2013

No– Official Website

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Murder on the Dancefloor

Tony Manero
Tony Manero is a dark insight into the mind of a psychopath obsessed with John Travolta’s character from Saturday Night Fever. Steven Galvin talks to Alfredo Castro, star of the multi award-winning film.

Steven Galvin: Alfredo. First of all, it was a fantastic performance.

Alfredo Castro: Thank you very much.

And I have to say, sitting in front of you here, that you have completely different eyes to the ones I saw in the film…

I hope so!

Because in the film they’re so dark. There’s a deadness behind the eyes that comes across so powerfully in your performance. Could you tell me something about your character Raúl – how you came to play him and what was it like?

Well, we didn’t rehearse at all; we just went straight into shooting the film. And I had worked on the script for a year. And then Pablo Larrain (the director) took the script and worked on it. We reached a plateau where we knew nothing about the character – no judgment about him. Just him as a result of the violence and the dictatorship he lived under at that moment – in Chile, under Pinochet. The main thing for me was to represent the impunity from death – that he can murder or kill anybody to get what he wants

And when you connect it to the political environment of that time are you saying that Raúl is a product of that society?

Absolutely, yes. Yes, he’s an animal. He’s illiterate. And he just wants to dance. And all the pollution he feels he it drops off him when he is dancing or having sort of sex – bad sex!

The dancing is his only expression of potency in so much as the sex is such a failure for him.

Yes. That’s it. Failure. The man is a failure.

Yet strange as it may seem – he is a failure, a man without morals who commits acts of violence – the viewer is quite drawn to him. You don’t hate him.

No, I don’t.

And at the end of the film, you find yourself rooting for him.

Yes – but you feel guilty…

Was that a conscious decision by yourself and Pablo? That in some way the audience feels a sense of compassion for Raúl?

Yes. We don’t agree with this new idea of the anti-hero. He is in some way a hero – for himself. But I have no moral or ethical judgement about him. I just did it. It was very hard. It was six weeks of shooting. I felt a lot of sympathy for him – pity. He’s a poor, poor man.

So the fact that he had come to that point in his life – where he had achieved nothing. Coming from a poor, uneducated background, working class…

He’s not really a working class man. He’s sort of an outsider without a class. At that moment there were two classes – those that supported Pinochet and those that didn’t. But there was another social class – outsiders. They didn’t support Pinochet nor were they against him. He’s an outsider, just trying to survive. I’m sure he’s not of a social class. But he’s living in a time of violence.

When you talk about the political background to the film, it’s interwoven into the script and yet it’s not a major part of the film. It’s not thrust in your face.

No, not at all. That was just the environment – the atmosphere of terror. At that time it was like that.

You said earlier that you worked on the script before giving it to Pablo. How did the idea come about? And could you tell me about the relationship between the two of you and the development of the script?

We had finished another movie together. It was a failure. That was Pablo’s first film. There was in that film 20 minutes where I play a gay guy who was in a psychiatric hospital. And he helped the protagonist to get out of that hell. Pablo and I got on very well and developed a friendship.

This was the first time you’d worked with Pablo.

Yes. That was the first time I did a film. I never acted in a film before in my entire life. I am a man of theatre. I have worked for thirteen years in theatre. But I had never been in film. That was my first time. Afterwards, I received a call from Pablo and he told me he saw a picture, a photograph in a book and that he would like me to see it. I went to his home and I saw the picture and I wanted to tell the story of the man in the picture. He was an American serial killer, who was sitting in a sofa in his underwear with a gun in his hand, hanging by his side as he looked out the window. It was series of photos. There was another picture with the same man with a woman giving him a blowjob and the man was still looking out the window – not sexy, no excitement at all. So we started there with the photo. And then he wrote the script with another guy, Mateo Iribarren – a very good writer – and then I worked on the dramaturgy. I didn’t write any words. Just focused on ideas and what happens, when and why. By the end we had a huge script, which Pablo then reduced to fifty or sixty pages telling the story of three days in the life of a man. Then Pablo made the link with Tony Manero because the film was released at the time the script was set in – 1977.

When Raúl tries to live out this cultural ‘American Dream’, why do you think he chose Tony Manero?

Well Saturday Night Fever was released in 1977. At that time we had tough censorship. So only American films came in – films which were meant to stop people thinking about what was going on. ’77/’78 were the worst years of the dictatorship. Many people were killed. They were the worst years of the dictatorship. Everybody was dancing disco and trying to be Tony Manero/John Travolta, whatever.  So that’s why Pablo made the link in this film.

I took the script as a kind of Greek tragedy. When the film starts, it is with failure. A man around his fifties trying to be Tony Manero, trying to live the ‘American Dream’ – but of course, it’s not going to work at all.

The scene in the dance club when the police come in to make arrests and Raúl hides: it demonstrates publicly that he’s a coward. Not being able to stand up and act for others. But instead he follows his personal desire and slips out to get to the contest. For him nothing else matters.

No. Not even love. He loves nobody. He’s a psychopath. There’s no the ‘other’ for him. The other doesn’t exist. It’s just ‘yourself’, and your dreams and your goals and you go for that. No feelings for the other. No compromise at all.

In fact, when you say no feelings for others – the only time we do see him express any sort of feelings is when he’s alone. When he’s lying on the dance floor he’s built and when he’s dancing alone in his bedroom.

Yes, all for himself. For nobody else.

There’s a particular scene that puts a new twist on the stories of ballerinas putting glass into their rivals’ shoes in order to win…

Yes. I shit on the suit! Well, y’know, in Chile, the thieves when they break into houses they always shit everywhere. They leave their mark. This is my territory. We tried to find other ways of doing that scene – with a knife, burning the suit… But we did it that way. Pablo said to me, ‘I think this guy would shit on the suit.’ So when we were shooting that day, it was planned before. There was one hour of discussion and arguments. I decided to go and do it and prepare the shit!

It’s a scene that does shock the audience. It’s one of those scenes that, even if you know it’s coming, you’re not prepared.

Yes, you don’t want to see it.

There was little dialogue in the film…

Yes. It was the idea of Pablo. This man, at the beginning, when we started the script, he talks a lot. A lot of chatting with all the people. But at the end, Pablo decided that this man would have few words – just seeing and looking and watching everybody.

Pablo uses a lot of close-ups letting the face of Raúl say more than words can.

The camera was always around me. Very near my face. It was like another eye for myself.

You were saying that your background is in theatre, so how did this experience in front of a camera compare?

I prefer the people sitting in front of me. I had to incorporate the camera into myself. I thought to myself for the five or six weeks that it was really my sight – another eye of myself, I was watching everything. In this case the camera operated for me as a witness. It was very scary.

I hope not so scary that you won’t do it again!

No! Of course not.

Thank you. A pleasure talking with you.

Thank you.

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Tony Manero

Tony Manero

DIR: Pablo Larrain • WRI: Alfredo Castro, Mateo Iribarren, Pablo Larrain • PRO: Juan de Dios Larraín • DOP: Sergio Armstrong • ED: Andrea Chignoli • DES: Polin Garbizu • CAST: Alfredo Castro, Amparo Noguera, Paola Lattus, Héctor Morales, Elsa Poblete

A man in his fifties is obsessed with Tony Manero – John Travolta’s strutting, extended-arm disco shuffler from Saturday Night Fever. He enters a TV contest in the hope to be the best Tony Manero impersonator and win a blender for his efforts. Sounds a laugh-a-minute romp. Well it isn’t. Because this particular mimic is a psychopathic killer, whose acts of violence and impotent attempts at seducing his girlfriend’s daughter are set against the backdrop of Pinochet’s reign of terror in Chile. And he defecates on other people’s clothes – of course.

Directed by Pablo Larrain, the film focuses on a few days in the life of Raúl Peralta (an understated yet ferocious performance from Alfredo Castro, who had a hand in the screenplay along with Larrain and fellow writer, Mateo Ibibarren). Raúl heads a dance troupe in his local cantina performing laboured sequences from Saturday Night Fever – the Riverdance of the late seventies. For Raúl though, it’s much more than the dance. Sitting alone in his local cinema day after day, he repeats lines from his beloved film. In essence, Raúl’s obsession drives his psychopathic need to escape his everyday life and take on the new heroic identity that Travolta’s Manero seems to provide. All the trappings of Manero’s world are sought by Raúl – to such an extent that not only does he don that suit, but also builds his own dancefloor based on the one Travolta struts across. In order to achieve this, Raúl resorts to horrific acts of violence to get what he wants.

Here we have the ‘killer on the dancefloor’ incarnate. Certain scenes are uncomfortable to watch and others produce nervous laughter and groans – when Raúl finds out his local cinema that has been showing Saturday Night Fever for so long has replaced it with Grease, it doesn’t take him long to bludgeon the cinema attendant who sold him his ticket. There are obvious links between Raúl’s actions and those of the dictatorial regime in place at that time in Chile; but this is woven subtly into the plot rather than stitched on for effect.

Tony Manero won the top prize at the 26th annual Torino Film Festival in 2008, as well as the FIPRESCI prize (the international federation of film critics) for best film, and Alfredo Castro was awarded best actor. The film was also Chile’s submission to the 81st Academy® Awards for Best Foreign Language Film. There are no lessons learnt here. No character arcs. No redemption. No happy ending. This shouldn’t deter people from seeing it though. Whoever does, will be rewarded by experiencing one of the better films to hit the screens this year.

Steven Galvin
(See biog here)

Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details)
Tony Manero
is released on 10th April 2009
Tony Manero – Official Website

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