Director Pablo Larraín’s filmic love letter to Pablo Neruda (Chilean poet and politician) works better than it should considering the nature of Guillermo Calderón’s objectively baroque screenplay. The screenwriter manages to paint a wildly exotic (partially fictionalized) brief biopic that fleshes out colorful aspects of Pablo Neruda’s life in exile.
Neruda’s complex relationship with his wifeDelia del Carril (Mercedes Morán) reveals layers of emotional, intellectual, and ideological determination on both their parts. Here is a great example of literary license being taken with graceful precision.
Potentially damning voice-over narration from Gael Garcia Bernal’s uncultured but determined detective Óscar Peluchonneau creates a sleek stream of consciousness subplot from the viewpoint of the man (or kind of man) tasked with tracking down and capturing the Communist Senator and beloved poet after Neruda goes on the lam with his wife rather than let himself be arrested by Chile’s fascist element after Communism is outlawed. Neruda plays a game of cat-and-mouse with the detective for whom he leaves behind copies of a book.
Significant credit goes to Luis Gnecco’s wonderfully underplayed portrayal of Neruda as a man of earthy desires and ethical responsibility. If Gnecco’s performance comes across as a breakthrough, it is a premiere act more than three decades in the making. Nothing is wasted, and nothing is held back in a performance that is Oscar-worthy regardless of your global perspective. Mercedes Morán empowers Gnecco’s efforts with a caring femininity that balances the couple’s power dynamic of unconditional love.
“Neruda” is a fascinating movie for any number of reasons. Although it doesn’t articulate as much of Pablo Neruda’s heartbreakingly sublime poetry as the film could have, it provides valuable insight into a man whose gift for words was equal to his lust for life.
Rated R. 107 mins. (B+) (Four Stars — out of five / no halves)