Thursday, December 15, 2016

Poet, politico, man and myth: Pablo Larraín's multi-faceted biopic/fantasy, NERUDA

Older Americans of a progressive slant will be familiar with the Nobel-winning Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, I suspect. But unless they are very familiar with the man's history, much of NERUDA, a new film from Chilean director Pablo Larraín, whose new film Jackie is also currently playing (and will be reviewed here next week), may strike them as surprising and bizarre. That's just fine, however, because -- from what TrustMovies can gather about Larraín's film -- this is indeed a kind of fantasia of what-if? and what-then?

The movie builds off facts, all right -- what we may already know about Neruda's life and art -- and what the screenwriter, Guillermo Calderón (of The Club), does in his very nearly completely invented story, is to wrap it all around a real time in Neruda's life (the 1940s) when he had to go on the run from the anti-Communist Chilean authorities who were (as usual and as a few decades later: remember Pinochet?) in the pocket of their North America "teachers." In filming Calderón's screenplay, Señor Larraín, pictured at right, has given us his most poetic movie so far.

Neruda may move slowly but the tale it spins is strange and gorgeous, witty and ironic, buoyant and sad. In the leading role is an actor who looks remarkably like Neruda himself (at least in some of the extant photos we can access, as the one below), Luis Gnecco (shown at left). Gnecco captures the artist, the politician, and the man equally well, succeeding in making us understand how Neruda was able to concoct the myth that surrounded him via the help of both his friends/fans and even more so with the help of his enemies.

After all, when the right wing calls you a traitor to your country, isn't it rather a badge of honor? Pablo was evidently a man of very healthy appetites, many of which are shown us throughout the movie. And yet it is hard not to love him for his excesses, as much as for his talent and political savvy. But Señor Gnecco shares screen time with a co-star much better known in America and internationally, Gael García Bernal (below), who plays a fictional character named Óscar Peluchonneau, a full-of-himself policeman who is given the job of finding and arresting (or maybe even killing) Neruda.

Óscar also narrates the film, and a more unreliable narrator would be hard to come by. But this is part of what makes the movie so often such fun. The policeman's idea of life and art and his place in it all is far afield from any reality we can see, and as the film marches forward, Óscar's ideas grow funnier but also sadder, even a bit poignant.

Mercedes Morán, a beautiful actress with wonderful access to emotional depths (shown above), plays Neruda's woman, and she's a pleasure to watch in all her scenes. Also in the cast is Larraín regular, Alfredo Castro, in a role small enough that you might miss that notable face.

The movie plays with politics and art, reality and fantasy, storytelling and the "heroic protagonist" (this is the role our Óscar dearly wants to assume) -- all to very good effect. It is beautiful to look at, as well, never more so than in the film's final scenes in the snowy Andes mountains where predator and prey will finally meet. Sort of.

Along the way we get snippets of Neruda's poetry, too, and if I have not made if clear that more than a passing interest in this poet is probably a requirement of the film, then let me do that now. I suspect that Chileans probably flocked to the film in a similar way that Americans will do with Jackie, a north-of-the-border mythmaker in her own way.

Meanwhile, Neruda -- from The Orchard and Participant Media, running 107 minutes, in Spanish with English subtitles -- opens tomorrow, Friday, December 16, in New York City at the IFC Center and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Royal, and in Toronto at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. In the weeks to come it will hit a number of other cities, too. Click here to see all currently scheduled playdates.

No comments: