Neruda’s Politics Over Poetry

DATELINE:  Chile Politics

neruda

Pablo Larrain’s other important movie this past year, besides Jackie, is another off-beat biographical drama, this time centering on Chilean poet and political activist Pablo Neruda.

The film Neruda puts its focus on a year-long period in 1948 when the poet was targeted by the Chilean government for arrest and explains his attempts to flee the country while being chased by some kind of Victor Hugo-styled police detective. Bernal is utterly breath-taking in his 1940s wardrobe.

Told from the viewpoint of Gael Gabriel Bernal as the police pursuer, you have a man of no consequence taking his identity from chasing the biggest figure in his country’s history. As the cop finally begs the audience, “I am not a supporting character,” and we feel that Larrain is in total agreement.

The film hints that the pursuer was a creation of Neruda’s paranoia or of his self-important art. We tend to support the group that prefers to remember that Nobel Prize winner Neruda was a Stalinist communist, unrepentant and disdainful of much else.

In 1948 Chile perhaps it was chichi to be an unrelenting communist chased by a relentless secret police officer. Peanut-sized actor Bernal is strikingly brilliant in his dogged role. Luis Gnecco is equal in his performance as the frumpy, profligate poet Neruda.

Americans may wonder how this uninspired-looking man could motivate his nation as a martyr, or give voice to the downtrodden, that sent many who helped him to prison. It is all part of Larrain’s poetic vision of cat-and-mouse politics.

We must admit that the notion that an unimportant pawn of political corruption drawing his identity from hounding a greater man for his beliefs is a fascinating topic.

The film is fully realized, one of two powerful political dramas this year by the South American filmmaker Pablo Larrain, now taking part in Hollywood mainstream.

Neruda will be intriguing for those of a certain socialist political bent. The rest of us will conclude Neruda and the Nobel Prize are overrated, but the movie is not.

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