Chile’s Oscar entry about the poet/ statesman and the cop tracking him down is equal parts history and imagination
NERUDA (Pablo Larraín). 107 minutes. Opens Friday (December 16). See listing. Rating: NNNN
Equal parts history and imagination, this “anti-biopic” from Chilean director Pablo Larraín, set in 1948, tracks the beloved writer and statesman Pablo Neruda during the period when he was persecuted for his socialist politics and forced underground.
Pablo does Pablo! To explore the life and work of Chile’s greatest poet seems a no-brainer for Chile’s most lugubrious cinematic historian. Larraín has already dissected his nation’s history and culture in Tony Manero, Post Mortem, No and The Club.
However, it is worth noting that in Larraín and scenarist Guillermo Calderón’s conception, Neruda’s protagonist is not, in fact, Neruda (beautifully embodied by Luis Gnecco) but, rather, the federal policeman charged with smoking him out.
In his hunt for Neruda, the otherwise unremarkable prefect Oscar Peluchonneau (Gael García Bernal) finds himself imbued with a sweeping sense of purpose and destiny. It’s almost as if Peluchonneau is Neruda’s creation – though, strictly speaking, the character feels drawn from a slightly different narrative tradition, one more akin to the stories of Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges or Chilean filmmaker Raúl Ruiz.
Which is to say that Neruda is a work of inspired mischief, in which the art of storytelling is inextricable from historical fact.
It’s Chile’s official Oscar entry into the foreign-language film category, and director Larraín, whose Jackie will surely net star Natalie Portman a nom, helmed Chile’s previously Oscar-nominated movie No. It also just picked up a Golden Globe nod. But will the tone of the quirky film prove too elusive for Academy voters?