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Sunday, June 18, 2017


Pablo Neruda was a poet and a politician. He ultimately won the Nobel Prize for Literature. But in 1948 he was hunted across Chile for being a communist.

That is the subject of Pablo Lorrain's 2016 film Neruda, which seems to be more interested in the policeman who is chasing Neruda. He is a Javert-like figure played by Gael Garcia Bernal, who would seem to be fictional, but narrates the film and gets most of the psychological examination.

Neruda, whose real name was Ricardo Reyes, was an internationally known poet who was in the Chilean senate in the Communist Party. The Chilean president outlawed communists, so Neruda had to go into hiding. Played by Luis Gneccho, Neruda was fat and balding, but was nonetheless a ladies' man and libertine, and perhaps a bigamist. But he was beloved by his supporters, who helped him go into hiding, where he managed to elude police for over a year.

Bernal plays a man called Oscar Peluchonneau, who is the son of a prostitute ("the son of a venereal disease," he says) who fancies himself the son of the founder of the Chilean police. He carries himself with utmost poise and dignity, and takes his job very seriously. When someone tells him he is his civilian superior, he says "I have no civilian superiors." His pursuit of Neruda is dogged, to the point where he is pursuing him over the Andes into Argentina.

Anyone with a glimmer of knowledge about Neruda knows whether he will get away or not, but I think Lorrain is more interested in the chase than in the possible capture. Indeed, Neruda's wife tells Bernal that he is also all about he hunt--that Neruda created him just to be in this fiction. The lines between fiction and fact are kind of fuzzy--is Bernal the son of the great man? Does he even exist?

Lorrain, who also directed the American film Jackie, likes to play games. He frequently cuts dialogues between two characters so that they shift locations in between sentences, defying physics. I suppose this could be to make the film less stagnant, or to give it a more dream-like quality. The film is also very dark, without bright color, perhaps signifying a dark chapter in Chile's history (there would be worse, as we get a brief glimpse of a young August Pinochet).

I found Neruda interesting, and there is plenty of his poetry. It can be a bit confounding, and I never rally bought Bernal as the policeman--he is too boyish. I needed the part to be played by someone about ten years older.

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