Neruda’s Politics Over Poetry

DATELINE:  Chile Politics


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.

What Becomes a Legend Most: Jackie

DATELINE: National Nightmare


Pablo Larrain’s version of the JFK assassination from the close proximity of his beautiful widow comes to us via a South American director with the distance of a foreign eye.

Jackie will not please some Kennedy aficionados, nor worshippers of Mrs. Onassis. It is, however, compelling and frightening to see how this young woman had to deal with trauma and shock in the days after the 1963 tragedy.

Natalie Portman is Jackie Kennedy in her breathy, slight, personal style of what upper-crust means in America. With seamless intercuts of the famous White House tour in black and white, and stunning color footage of the actual funeral, we are given something we do not want to re-live with the unpleasant and distressing picture of a First Lady on a mission.

She might also be said to be on a rampage, wanting the world to see the blood on her clothes and to make herself a target of assassins by marching 14 blocks from the White House to the church. She forced every other world leader to be put on notice as fellow targets.

Most shocking is to see how alone this woman was—left in the White House in the night after her husband’s murder. She wanders the halls, showers off the blood, has a few stiff drinks, and plays Richard Burton singing “Camelot,” full length during her painful peripatetic night.

Peter Sarsgaard plays Robert Kennedy and takes it on the chin when Jackie flies into a rage. Journalist Billy Crudup seems to bait her in an interview, but she gives back in spades. And the unknown priest (John Hurt’s final performance) who tries to comfort her (allegedly Cardinal Richard Cushing) is also hit hard by her anger and cynicism over God and man.

Larrain’s film is compelling docudrama, eschewing conspiracy theories for the human theories. Indeed, Jackie wants to meet Oswald—and learns he too is assassinated.

Whether she means to have a spectacle for her dead husband, or for her own reasons, we may never be certain, but Jackie certainly has her way in the dark days, packing to leave the White House.

For those who lived through the Kennedy assassination, we may be horrified that movies like this will be how young people will learn about “a shining moment,” arranged by Mrs. Kennedy.