Chloe Walker from the Phoenix Picturehouse, Oxford reviews this week’s Discover Tuesdays’ title, Neruda.
If you’re a fan of prolific Chilean director Pablo Larraín (and you should be), then it’s been a good fourteen months for you. March last year saw the release of The Club, a pitch-black drama about disgraced priests. The New Year opened with Jackie, a quasi-biopic about the most famous of first ladies during the darkest time of her life.
And now we have Neruda, another quasi-biopic, which focuses on legendary poet Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco). The film follows Neruda as he goes on the run from the government after publicly accusing them of betraying their communist principles in order to appease the United States. The lead investigator, Oscar Peluchonneau (Gael García Bernal), provides the film with its fittingly poetic narration.
For those as unfamiliar with Neruda as I was, the film has you covered. It quickly demonstrates his basic traits: he’s a poet, a showman, a romantic and a dissident; a wealthy man whose love of his status only occasionally gets in the way of his devotion to helping the poor.
The apparent simplicity of the police-chasing-fugitive narrative is belied again and again by fascinating diversions from convention. For one thing, Neruda doesn’t seem all that worried about being caught. In fact at one point, he actually says of Peluchonneau and his officers “I’d like them to be closer.” There are, however, a couple of instances where Peluchonneau gets too close for comfort, and Neruda’s methods of evading capture are both creative and funny.
Largely though, the convention-bending has to do with Peluchonneau. It is clear from his narration, which is akin to the voice-over you’d find in a film noir, that he considers himself to be the hero of this story, not the man he refers to as ‘the fat poet’. Despite this pejorative language, it is also clear that he has great respect for Neruda; even envies him. Though he is ostensibly the film’s villain, it’s arguable that he’s also its most sympathetic character.
And it is the character of Peluchonneau who is at the centre of Neruda’s revelatory denouement. I won’t spoil it for you here, but only say that the revelation changes your perspective on everything that comes before, and makes you rethink your assumptions. It’s a whip-smart, oddly moving end to a film that revels in defying expectations.
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