Chilean director Pablo Larraín turns his attention to the titular poet-diplomat in this playful biopic
Hardworking Chilean director Pablo Larraín follows recent Oscar-contender Jackie with a playful, provocative reflection on the travails of poet-diplomat Pablo Neruda during the early days of the Cold War. Neruda illuminates a dark period in Chile's past but it's anything but a dry history lesson or conventional biopic. Instead, Larraín has opted for a florid, cartoonish approach where the comic swagger makes the repression and persecution even more unsettling.
Larraín embraces a sense of heightened reality, transforming Neruda's life during the 1940s into a hardboiled film noir pitched somewhere between vintage Hitchcock and Dennis Potter. You almost expect Robert Mitchum to step out of the shadows. As Chile sought to align itself with America during the Cold War, Neruda's communist convictions saw him branded an enemy of the state. Threatened with jail and forced into hiding, he is relentlessly pursued by clueless police inspector Óscar Peluchonneau (Gael García Bernal), an officer of the law who makes Clouseau look like Hercule Poirot.
Luis Gnecco's podgy, affable Neruda is a man who happily embraces his many contradictions as a champagne-swilling socialist and a champion of the people. His appetite for wine, women and fun is unapologetic. He seems to relish the thrill of the chase, the near misses and comical disguises. He also savours the opportunity to transform his life into the stuff of myth as he mocks, teases and outwits his gormless pursuer. The longer he remains on the loose, the more Neruda becomes a symbol of the greater struggle for freedom and civil liberties in Chile.
Larraín pursues the film's conceit with a painstaking attention to detail that stretches from the use of back projection and voiceover narration to the Bernard Herrmann-style score composed by Federico Jusid. Irreverent, funny and insightful, Neruda is unquestionably mannered but undeniably entertaining.
Limited release from Fri 7 Apr.