Based loosely on the life of famed Chilean politician-poet, Pablo Neruda, Neruda is an enthralling and inventive remastering of the biopic.
Surprising, cheeky, hilarious and stunningly clever, director Pablo Larrain’s latest film shows the artist at his best, with a work crafted with intense beauty and power. A film more informed by the idealised function of a writer rather than their facts, it illuminates a profoundly human wish: to be remembered.
Neruda follows the hunt between the richly detailed investigator and his leftist-writer prey. Both men are illuminated with notions of self-grandeur that propel them in making their mark in history.
Set in the post-war 1948 communist hysteria, the film deftly intertwines fiction with some truth, as the poet is not the romantic heard in his work, but the self-obsessed communist and lovable bigamist.
Neruda (Luis Gnecco) is compellingly mirrored by the invented police prefect Oscar Peluchonneau (Gael Garcia Bernal), a bumbling but determined inspector always one clue behind the poet. Every bit the protagonist with the poet, Peluchonneau is at once Neruda’s nemesis and creation to aid the legend of the poet’s persecution.
We are introduced to Peluchonneau through his voice-over, and are soon encouraged to question his reliability as the son of a prostitute and maybe the late Chief of Police.
The film is a constant play with cinematic artificiality and surrealism, with one of the most touching emotional scenes being a speech from a drag queen in a brothel, arousing passion for the inspirational poet. These moments are abruptly contrasted with doses of realism, highlighting the very real struggles of the Communist Party in Chile and the neglected working class.
The cinematic craft is on full display by director of photography Sergio Armstrong, with meticulous gliding between interiors and landscapes. The overtly constructed and indulgently noir persona of Peluchonneau is reinforced by the use of rear projection in car scenes, and clever editing marks hilarious contradictions in what is said, and what is meant.
Each aspect of Neruda is crafted to near perfection, with compelling performances and rich production delivering a message of it’s not who the artist is, but it’s what they inspire: giving voice and gifting to the masses.
Reviewed by Hannah Lally
Rating out of 10: 8
Neruda was the opening night film of the Cine Latino: Latin American Film Festival, running 11 – 24 August 2016 exclusively at the Palace Nova Eastend Cinemas. It will screen again on 20 & 21 August 2016.