4 out of 5 stars
Pablo Larrain returns to political drama after 2012’s No but this is a very different kind of film. In 1948, the Chilean government begins rounding up and jailing all communists, so poet, senator and communist party member Pablo Neruda goes on the run and so begins a cat and mouse game with Gael Garcia Burnal’s fictional policeman (no doubt modelled after Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther movies) who is on the hunt for him. Not knowing much about Chilean politics and history, the first half of the film sets the scene and background up but then it gets both more entertaining and more surreal. Using elements of 40s film noir (voice-over narrations, melodramatic score, use of lights and shadows and even the deliberately fake background when they are driving in cars) the film paints an unconventional picture – as if these real events are stories from one of those detective pulp fictions that Neruda keeps leaving behind for Garcia’s character to find. While the film is rich with stunning visuals and symbolism, the Sam Spade-like narration gets more poetic and abstract and in a pivotal scene between Garcia and Neruda’s partner played by Mercedes Morán, the film asks who is the hero and who is the secondary character in this story? The script is so out there philosophically, one has to admire its courage and conviction to resist the temptation to take the more traditional route. Neruda is a dreamy and poignant film that excites and inspires in equal measure and, instead of being irritated by its artiness/pretentiousness, I was awe struck by Larrain’s somewhat ingenious treatment of the subject matter and how the film manages to reflect and honour all of Neruda’s contradictions, wit and artistic temperament as well as his political achievements.