Around the World: Neruda

reviews Pablo Larraín’s latest drama surrounding the brutal suppression of Communism in Chile in 1948

Over summer many of us will be going to the cinema to watch the latest Hollywood blockbusters. So as an alternative this August the Nouse team is having a look at some of the gems of world cinema, which are often unfairly ignored in favour of their American counterparts. 

Image: 20th Century Fox

Neruda walks the plank between history and fiction whilst not falling into the realms of either and it is exactly this kind of indecision, masked as complexity, that makes this film peak and trough in almost equal capacities but ultimately fall flat in the decisive third act. This provides no resolution to the enthralling chase and battle of wits between Neruda and his persecutor, hapless policeman Óscar Peluchonneau. Pablo Larraín posts a piece of work that, whilst showing off the cinematographical flair and idiosyncratic touches that are seen in Jackie, suffers from a terribly inconsistent script.

A mix between a fictional story set and the real-life persecution of communists following the 1946 Chilean elections, Neruda’s crafting of the first and second acts is beautiful in the composition of Peluchonneau’s chase of the poet-turned-senator. The smooth tunes of the bassoon caress this film, harkening back to the silky tones that are sprinkled through the classic detective dramas of the 50s and 60s. This iconic association extends through the opening hour of the film and creates a riveting hybrid-genre; interlocking the real life story of Pablo Neruda with the intrigue of the genre.

But, at the threshold of the third act, the tunes continue but the scripts gushes into a meta-textual poem of a film which, instead of providing a satisfying end to the story they were telling, speeds off track faster than Pablo Neruda trying to evade the Chilean police. It is a shame that the enticing history-based chase is thrown off by the over-intellectual shift on the hour mark.

The film’s beguiling duality also involves the beautiful landscapes of Chile. The settings shown encapsulate Chile in a way that is fascinating to the foreign viewer (such as myself) but still underpins this films indecision. Every well-lit pastel coloured scene has it’s equal in the sunless backstreets of Chile’s cities. But this inability to decide what is right isn’t always disengaging. In fact, the duality of the setting works marvellously with the changing perception of Neruda; trying to pin down some truth in the legend and some legend in the truth. The poeticism of Neruda’s readings is punctuated with scenes of him cavorting in red-tinted rooms with scantily-clad women.

The best of Larraín’s works, Jackie, works mostly because of the simplistic self-contained narrative and Guillermo Calderón’s screenplay hasn’t got a patch on Noah Oppenheim’s. It’s a three-dimensional screenplay that ruins itself in it’s attempts to find a fourth. But there are successes within the overarching failure: the double duality between both Neruda as a poet and a man and the central battle of wits between Peluchonneau are well-crafted with their character encapsulating the complexities of each with relative depth and accuracy.

Despite these minor positives, when the narration starts to turn to vaguer statements about the creation of the chase, the screenplay forgets to actually create a satisfying ending to it. If this was a cake, Calderón would be trying to decorate it before it’s fully-baked. Calderón chops up and stitches what is essentially two films worth of angles to create a Franken-film which ends up discussing creator-creation relations, like Mary Shelley’s novel, but without warrant, need or tact.

Neruda is good and worth watching but be prepared for the thought that it could’ve been so much better. The representation of Chile’s history alone mixed with the wonderful looking shots of the country should act as a saving grace and soften the harsh irritation that the end of this film brings.