In Neruda, director Pablo Larrain takes a unique approach to telling the famed Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda’s story. The film isn’t like any other biopic you’ve seen. While it’s on Neruda, the story is from the perspective of detective Oscar Peluchonneau (Gael García Bernal) who pursues Neruda in 1948 for publicly criticizing and condemning Chilean President Gabriel González Videla (Alfredo Castro). Due to his radical communist views, Neruda (played by Luis Gnecco) became an enemy of the state.
It’s a wild goose chase, equally revealing as it is thrilling. Larrain does a brilliant job at showcasing Neruda as raw and human as possible. The dreamy ideal of a sensitive writer fighting political persecution is romanticizing, but it isn’t all who Neruda, the person, was. The film showcases the poet succumbing to the trappings of hedonistic desires with women, and even food. “Neruda was a wonderful cook and was an expert on wine, an expert on literature, an expert on crime novels,” Larrain told The New York Times.
Visually, the film is a scene of gray clouds and dark skies that resemble the political turmoil of the time. The Spanish and English subtitles give the film a richer, authentic feel. Alongside Neruda, is his artist wife, Delia (played by Mercedes Moran)—their relationship seems cold and aloof as he challenges her own artistry, making his art seem superior. Moreover, Neruda becomes too involved with himself to appreciate her everlasting support, despite his betraying ways.
It must be noted that the poet’s work has long been widely received by the masses. His rhythmic vignettes about love and politics became popular among the workers who adored him. The government tried to dim his light, but his work and person eclipsed their authority.
One of his muses, Detective Peluchonneau, became the subject of several of his writings; Peluchonneau takes as much a front seat as Neruda in the film. You get the sense that he too strives for a famed legacy, even if they are barely seen together on screen. You feel his commanding prowess as you hear him narrating.
Because this isn’t a straight-forward biographical film, it seems like somethings might have came from pure imagination. It’s that poetic license, however, that makes the story all the more compelling. “Biopics are so dangerous,” Larrain says. “I have enjoyed very few of them. Believe me, I read four biographies, I read his autobiography; it’s a beautiful book. I talked to people who met him, I read hundreds of essays on his life and I made a movie that’s called Neruda. And I can tell you right now that I have no idea who he was because he’s ungrabbable, impossible to put in a box.”
One of Neruda’s most famous lines—And one by one the nights between our separated cities are joined to the night that unites us—he describes his relationship with Peluchonneau; each city representing each difference difference between each man, and their respective motives. Yet the political atmosphere is the same dark evening they coexist in; it’s exactly what brings them together—for better or worse.
Neruda had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.
It screened Oct. 5 at the New York Film Festival.