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.
Neruda is released 21st April 2017