Studio: The Orchard
Directed by Pablo Larrain
Jan 04, 2017
Pablo Neruda was a poet, politician, and member of the Communist Party in Chile in the early-mid 1900s. Under threat of prosecution, despite being a sitting senator, Neruda was forced to go into hiding in the late 1940s. While Neruda the film is technically a biopic of Neruda the poet, the film doesn’t entirely follow the trappings of a traditional biography. A welcome trend is shifting the focus from entire lives of people to defining moments within those lives. While kitchen-sink treatment can yield the odd success like Walk the Line, it’s also often exhausting and full of meandering details that don’t illuminate the subject in any important manner.
Even better is that while Neruda is about an individual, it also isn’t exclusively about him. Yes, director Larrain follows Pablo Neruda and his artist wife Delia del Carril from safe house to safe house, and portrays the chase from an inspector played by Gael Garcia Bernal, but these events are used to underscore the greater themes at play. As simple as it might seem, words are dangerous and they scare those clutching onto power. Neruda, a poet, had nothing but words at his disposal. Portrayed as a man who enjoys the finer things, almost at odds with his stance within the Communist Party, Neruda uses his words in public and then from hiding to taunt the powerful elite and to inspire those being oppressed. He’s not seen as a saint, though. One scene features him with his driver/bodyguard Alvaro Jara. Jara is about to leave his employ for various reasons that are obvious from watching. In parting, he asks Neruda to try and be more humble.
A movie needs to be more than a thesis for social change or celebrating a movement or people who stood up for the right causes, and while Neruda is, it could have been more. The cat-and-mouse chase between the inspector and the poet is occasionally entertaining, sometimes funny, and even intermittently thrilling. It also lacks definition despite the teasing nature suggesting the inspector is only a few steps behind Neruda at every turn. This winds up being something of a red herring, and while the answer is clever, it’s sadly unsatisfying. Larrain’s film is still worth watching for its highs and despite the odd misstep, it’s a fine film that flirts with being something greater.
Author rating: 7/10
Average reader rating: 8/10
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