But while Neruda works as an impish and ironic companion piece to Jackie, stretching the biopic form to breaking point, it’s also a delightfully surreal stand-alone drama, an intellectual comedy that works in the register of bathos rather than grand tragedy.
It’s 1948, and Pablo Neruda – poet and communist – has denounced the president of Chile for his brutal anti-communist oppression. Threatened with arrest, Neruda goes underground, but his pride doesn’t allow him to keep quiet: exasperating his retainers and his long-suffering wife (Mercedes Morán), he taunts the Chilean government by giving public appearances and leaving the pursuing agents cryptic clues to his whereabouts.
Chilean actor Luis Gnecco makes his Neruda memorably contradictory and convincing. Pompous and self-aware, gentle and acerbic, kind and deeply selfish, he exudes the right degree of ridiculousness and charisma. It’s an irreverent performance that nonetheless makes believable the adoration of Neruda’s many readers, even though they’re half aware that there’s something hypocritical about how the voice of the working class is a hedonist and aesthete who claims ‘we will eat in bed and fornicate in the kitchen’.
But Gnecco’s Neruda is upstaged by the man in charge of finding him. Police chief Oscar Peluchonneau (Gael García Bernal), routinely thwarted in his search for the fugitive, is the embodiment of the critic with a vendetta, his justified scepticism of Neruda’s fame and success undermined by personal resentment and inflated self-importance.
Oscar Peluchonneau (Gael García Bernal)
Played with a perfect mix of preening self-regard and deflated dismay by Bernal, Peluchonneau has a chip on his shoulder not just about being the son of a prostitute but about being a supporting character in the story of Neruda’s life. This conceit gets increasingly meta-fictional as Neruda progresses, in a way that you’ll either find mildly intriguing or alienatingly abstruse.
Certainly it’s indulgent, and it’s not clear Larraín’s playfulness will deepen or expand anyone’s understanding of the poet, his art or his world, but as a lightly baffling bit of cinematic game-playing, Neruda is a treat.
|What||Neruda film review|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
07 Apr 17 – 07 Jun 17, Times vary
|Price||£determined by cinema|
|Website||Click here for more details|