by Katie Hogan
A biopic has a stigma. It is usually a film based on a famous person’s life or a period of time in their life. Mostly based on fact, but with any film, artistic license is taken because after all it is a film not a documentary. ‘Neruda’ is a different interpretation of the sometimes over used biopic genre. Instead of a straight forward tale about the famous poet, senator, communist and how he went into hiding, it is a chase, journey and discovery film all rolled into one.
The story begins with Neruda (Luis Gnecco) meeting with his political party in the men’s bathroom. The setting is elegant and grand, but of all the places, they decide to have important discussions in an unusual and unsanitary place. This almost sets the scene and tone for the film. It is not a serious portrait, it is a creation. From there, we see Neruda at a party as if everything was ok and his communist ideals are not in question, he believes he’s allowed to do as he pleases. His attitude doesn’t change, as he is forced into hiding after he is impeached for accusing the government of betraying the communist party. Neruda, along with his wife, painter Della del Carril (Mercedes Moran), tries to flee the country. During his time in hiding he writes his collection of poems ‘Canto General’ while being hounded by the police.
The film is inspired by real events but it is in the introduction of the Police Prefect Oscar Peluchonneau, a fantastic Gael Garcia Bernal, that bring fiction and fact together through a poetic voiceover, reminiscent of classic film noir detectives. We hear him before we see him and we get to know who this character is through wistful looks and thoughts running through his mind. Peluchonneau is tasked with hunting Neruda down and bringing him to ‘justice’, and thus becomes obsessed with finding Neruda. Through the cities, the countryside, and snowy mountains he follows his prey, not willing to give up, even at the last moment.
Gnecco is wonderful as the self-centred, partying communist Neruda. Putting on his poet voice to show a softer artistic side, even when he is surrounded by women in a brothel. Bernal is brilliant as the son of a prostitute who rose up to be a detective. He doubts his existence, believing he is a creation of Neruda’s and strives to be more than a supporting character in this story. Channelling the typical film noir detectives of Hollywood while giving Peluchonneau depth, he is most definitely a lead in this film.
Pablo Larrain described the film as a false biopic as the film doesn’t delve deep into Neruda’s mind, life, or even his politics. Larrain plays on Neruda’s love of detective stories, with the central chase turning into a journey of discovery for both of the characters. Saying that ‘we invented a world, just as Neruda invented his, shows that this is possibly a step towards the evolution of the biopic. With excellent performances and inventive storytelling, there is hope.
Dir: Pablo Larrin
Prd: Renan Artukmac, Peter Danner, Fernando Del Nido, Juan Pablo García, Axel Kuschevatzky, Juan de Dios Larraín, Ignacio Rey, Gaston Rothschild, Jeff Skoll, Alex Zito
Scr: Guillermo Calderón
Cast: Luis Gnecco, Gael Garcia Bernal, Mercedes Moran
DoP: Sergio Armstrong
Music: Federico Jusid
Country: Chile, Argentina, France, Spain
Running Time: 107 minutes
Neruda will be released in the UK in cinemas 10th March 2017.