BFI London Film Festival: Neruda


Directed by Pablo Larraín
Starring Luis Gnecco, Gael García Bernal and Mercedes Morán
In UK Cinemas April 7th, 2017
Watch on iTunes (US)

by Joanna Orland

Blending fiction and truth, Neruda is not a biopic of Nobel Prize-winning poet and diplomat Pablo Neruda, but rather a surrealist expression examining the role of a writer.  The main message being, it matters what an artist inspires, not who he is.  In director Pablo Larraín’s film, Pablo Neruda is portrayed as a vain, champagne-guzzling, snobbish communist/poet.  But what he inspires in society and the characters in this film is grand.

It is a few years after World War II and Chilean President González Videla is clamping down on communism.  As a prominent communist himself, Neruda and his wife Delia go into hiding while being obsessively pursued by detective Peluchonneau, portrayed brilliantly by Gael García Bernal with a hint of Inspector Clouseau about him.  Not only tasked with capturing the poet, Peluchonneau is also engrossed with the persona of Neruda and his own role in the writer’s work of his life.  He is determined not to be merely a supporting character in the drama of Neruda’s life, and his fixation on the poet escalates to bizarre heights.

Not only is this film not a biopic, but it is also not a straightforward cat-and-mouse thriller, as it uses abstract concepts and narration to piece everything together.  Peluchonneau, while the supporting character of Pablo Neruda’s story, can just about be considered the main protagonist in this unconventional drama.  His narration throughout the film is self-referential, transcends space and time, is completely surreal, and adds a brilliant humour to the film.

In addition to being an exploration of the artist versus the art, Neruda also examines the line between truth and fiction, by crossing it many times over.  This film also shifts tonally throughout, making it a very odd one to try and classify or even get one’s head around.  It’s truly the performances and dynamic between Peluchonneau and Neruda keeping this film afloat, even though the two never properly meet.


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