This is not a biopic like the ones you’ve been used to watching. It is not the depiction of the artist’s childhood, first steps, mishaps and challenges until the real persona is fulfilled and revealed in all its glory. Neither is that very persona the starting point of the narrative, with several flashbacks comprising the bones of the story. Nor a facts, figures and data driven work promising to reveal hidden, unknown or confidential aspects of one’s life.
Set in a unique and bespoke Nerrudian universe, the film is celebrating the spirit and legacy of the great Chilean by reviving his highs and lows, his fears and aspirations, his talents and his flaws. Utilising real events but also all the myths surrounding his life, art, social and political persona the film draws a playful and immersive portrait of him through the eyes, thoughts and actions of Oscar Peluconneau, a fictional character who comes to life for that very reason.
“Neruda is the most important communist in the world” claims the Police Prefect, brilliantly performed by Gael Garcia Bernal, who makes it his primary mission to bring the poet to justice. It is 1948 at the height of the Cold War and Senator Pablo Nerruda is impeached by president Gonzalez Videla, after accusing the government of betraying the communist party. The poet and his wife, painter Delia Del Carril, try to flee abroad but fail and have to go into hiding.
Without a safe place to stay or a secure means of transport to use, the Senator and his wife are introduced to the perils of a life on the run which inspired Nerruda to write his seminal work Canto General. The impact of the work is immense. Neruda is hailed as one of the greatest living poets and elevated to a global artistic pantheon, while being honoured at symposia by the likes of Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali, who make an appeal for his liberation. In the meantime the former Senator decides to enter an intriguing and cathartic game of cat and mouse with Oscar Pelucchoneau, as if he were orchestrating the plot of a real time detective story, allowing both himself and the Police Prefect to reinvent themselves.
Focusing on the almost mythical appeal of the poet’s work and personality to all Chileans, Pablo Larain very cleverly creates a playful and witty film steeped into the Nerudian world, avoiding masterfully any pastiche notes. His multi-faced inexorable talent and larger than life and politics personality, make him all things to all people. His poetry means something to everyone. He is the generous stranger to a street girl, the loyal friend of a singer in transition, pure trouble to his bodyguard from the Communist Party, a father figure to the Police Prefect, who is desperately seeking his defeat and consequent approval.
Luis Gnecco delivers an outstanding performance as the sensitive, egalitarian but sometimes arrogant artist and so is Mercedes Moran, who plays his wife Delia with equal amounts of realism and warmth. It is Gael García Bernal who carries the film however with his witty, post-modern interpretation of a noir detective, showcasing once more that he is one of the most talented actors of his generation.
Undoubtedly carrying a fresh and reinvigorating energy, the film is a Nerudian work of its own accord created by the talented director of Jaquie and No. A wonderful and refined journey to the mind and legacy of one of the greatest artists of all time, which also serves as a window to Chilean history. One of the most interesting biopics to watch and a true motivation to explore Neruda:
“I want to know, salt of the roads,
show me the spoon - architecture, let me
scratch at the stamens of stone with a little stick,
ascend the rungs of the air up to the void,
scrape the innards until I touch mankind.”
Canto II Las Alturas De Macchu Picchu. IV, st. 1
By Eirini Nikopoulou.
NERUDA is available on DVD, Blu-ray, and Digital from 10th July.