Directed by Pablo Larrain
Released December 16, 2016
Artists can be larger-than-life. They paint pictures or write words that conjure up images and ideas that can come to represent much more than just one physical person can be. When an artist is rarely seen, that reputation is augmented, since only tales and legends, impossible to confirm, begin to define them. When someone venerated and celebrated with prizes and awards becomes an outlaw and an enemy of the government, it’s nearly impossible to curb public opinion away from idolizing that person as a hero of the people and someone not soon to be suppressed or forgotten.
Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco) is introduced at the point when he is already at odds with the leadership of Chile thanks to his affiliation with the Communist party. Elected as a senator, Neruda was most famous for being a poet. When he goes on the run, he makes occasional appearances to recite beautiful words that charm everyone around him, making him a popular figure who can easily evade pursuit. On his tail is police inspector Oscar Peluchoneau (Gael Garcia Bernal), who takes his charge from the president to locate the country’s most wanted man extremely seriously and will stop at nothing to bring him in.
“Neruda” is about a man who, like another Pablo hunted by the government of his South American country who is the central character of a terrific Netflix series, has created a personality that makes the idea of his eventual death seem almost inconsequential since nothing could ever really kill the myth. Unlike Escobar, this Pablo doesn’t pose nearly as much of a threat, and as a result, he does little to antagonize his pursuers other than to try to take in a bit of culture and get some fresh air every once in a while. Peluchoneau fashions himself a true policeman, and the way in which he finds his life tied into and dependent on Neruda’s is truly fascinating.
Gnecco is not really the star of this film, portraying Neruda as someone who often melds into the background, emerging at the end of a conversation to offer up a piece of prose to wow his audience. The performance is adequate but hardly as memorable as international star Bernal, who makes Peluchoneau a compelling protagonist who is really telling his own story as affected by Neruda. Chile’s official Oscar submission for Best Foreign Film portrays a creative man in a creative way, even if it’s not the most invigorating or exciting film of the year.