Stars: Luis Gnecco, Gael Garcia Bernal
Director: Pablo Larrain
Chilean director Pablo Larrain uses cinema to document his fascination with politically charged moments in Chilean history, such as the campaign for Augusto Pinochet’s re-election in No and now the hunt-down for Pablo Neruda throughout 1948 in his latest film Neruda.
Our title character (Luis Gnecco) is a renowned poet of Chile and its people, who also happens to be a Senator for the Chilean Communist Party, who draws the government’s attention when communism becomes outlawed and Oscar Peluchonneau (Gael Garcia Bernal) is sent to track down Neruda, who is already trying to keep himself two steps ahead of the authorities. And so goes this chase, with Oscar constantly missing out on capturing him as Neruda makes his way stealthily towards the Argentina border.
This sort of manhunt is amiably presented in this story, but could use more steady moments of tension to add to the drama, with little conflict brought up in the two men’s political ideals. The film focuses on Neruda’s procedural efforts to evade the authorities, and though there’s a couple of scenes spent discussing his own policies and how these might correlate or contrast with those of his fan and fellow Chileans, a few more scenes to establish the title character could’ve added further conflict with his hunters.
What is interesting are the occasional narrator moments from Oscar who ponders his importance in finding Neruda, showing off an appropriate amount of smug entitled cockiness as well as exploring his own cracks in his confidence. It’d be wrong to say these personal musings go nowhere as they really come to fruition during the film’s incredible final few scenes, where the chase becomes even narrower and the conflicted relation is tested between Neruda and Oscar in a thoughtful, humane, and emotional scene that regards their lives, deaths, and legacies.
Although not demonstrative of what could’ve been the most exciting and thoroughly detailed film version of these events, Neruda is still a dedicated rendition of the hunt for this controversial artist/politician from one of the most politically aware filmmakers today, boasted by triumphant, yet enigmatic Bernard Herrmann-esque music and a very tangible sun-burnt film look that makes the most out of its purple palette. The climax and ending of the film really bring a new kind of perspective to how films like these can approach and reflect on these political moments in history, but everything before it does a fine enough job in truthfully putting this story to screen.
Neruda plays at UWA Somerville from Mon 16-Sun 22 Jan, 8pm, and at ECU Joondalup Pines from Tues 24-Sun 29 Jan, 8pm. For more info head to perthfestival.com.au.