Cannes International Film Festival 2016
It’s the constant self-interrogation of the imaginary inspector that elevates Neruda above the vast majority of playful biopics.
After Paterson, Pablo Larraín’s new film was the second to screen in Cannes named after a poet, yet the difference between the two films could not be greater: Neruda is an action-driven piece of historical fiction, infused with a detective story. It recounts, with a great deal of imagination, Pablo Neruda’s escape from Chile into exile after the country’s criminalisation of the communist party in 1948. The result is a poetic introduction to Neruda’s life wrapped in a game of cat and mouse.
Larrain’s regular collaborator Gael García Bernal stars as Inspector Peluchonneau, the man charged with the unthankful task of putting the visionary 1971 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature behind bars. And much of the joy of the film comes from the fact that the poet only ever stays two steps ahead of Peluchonneau, because he wants to feel his persecutor close on his tail. Luis Gnecco’s Neruda is alternately grandiose and short-tempered, willing to constantly recite his most famous poem, but equally prone to vanity.
Yet, it’s the constant self-interrogation of the imaginary inspector that elevates Neruda above the vast majority of playful biopics. The film’s subtle power lies in the deliberate, contrary notion of Peluchonneau’s film noir presence and the detective’s increasingly conscious voice-over, as he slowly but surely realises his own importance in creating Neruda’s legend.
Why Neruda screened only in the Directors’ Fortnight section rather than the official competition remains a mystery, just like the man himself.