Off the back of his Jackie Kennedy bio comes Neruda, Pablo Larraín’s portrait of the womanizing poet-politician unusually told from the perspective of the detective inspector attempting to track him down. In this film, Larraín’s fascination with the dazzling imprint that is cast by the limelight continues: the persecuted fugitive is often shot in profile against brightly lit backgrounds; the poet’s silhouette is shorthand, perhaps, for his new, more mutable identity assumed when hunted by the state.
With the intensifying manhunt comes Neruda’s opportunity for reinvention, depicted in farcical scenes of drag and dress-up. Frustrating audiences searching for an objective biography and inspector Oscar Peluchonneau alike, screenwriter Guillermo Calderón is unafraid to flaunt the artistic licence that he has been afforded. Peluchonneau is played by a very film noir Gael García Bernal, recast after his role in Larraín’s No (2012), a movie equally pioneering in its controversial suggestion that Pinochet’s dictatorship was overturned by a TV marketing campaign.
Just like the title of the non-biopic, our protagonist’s centrality within the wide 2.39:1 ratio is perhaps misleading: ‘Neruda’ was only a pseudonym, assumed in honour of the Czech poet Jan Neruda. Both representing and enacting the pursuit of this elusive figure, Neruda itself becomes a confidently self-referential detective story. In terms of style and plot, the delight of this film is not in its destination but in its journey. The wide aspect ratio gives the film necessary space to journey across the Chilean landscapes, ending mercilessly adrift in the Andes.
With its subject so far from reach, Neruda refuses to abide by the standards of conventional film biography. Instead, Pablo Larraín pens his ode to the possibilities of the written word in a work of pure poetry that does not surrender literary ambiguity in translation onto the cinema screen.
CAST: Luis Gnecco, Gael García Bernal, Mercedes Morán
DIRECTOR: Pablo Larraín
WRITER: Guillermo Calderón
SYNOPSIS: Set in Chile just after the end of the Second World War, an inspector hunts down Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda who has become a fugitive after having joined the Communist Party.