Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) was a great poet from Chile, and an inspiration to the masses when rights for all workers were in question. He was also a notorious Communist. In 1971, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Back in 1994, I watched the Italian film Il Postino: The Postman, where a young man is inspired by Neruda to write his own poetry and to become politically active. It is a beautiful film that won my heart and the hearts of many others, as well as winning numerous awards. Il Postino is a fictional tale, perhaps inspired by Neruda’s brief stay on the island of Capri. It was a romantic and inspiring story.
In the 1940’s, Neruda served as a senator for the Chilean Communist Party. When the President of Chile, Gabriel Gonzalez Videla, outlawed Communism, he fled and escaped through a mountain pass to Argentina.
The 2016 film Neruda takes liberties with those facts and runs with it. It stars Gael Garcia Bernal, one of my favorite actors, as a detective hunting down Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco) in a sort of cat and mouse game. Neruda leaves morsels of crumbs to taunt Inspector Oscar Peluchonneau (Gabriel Garcia Bernal), in the form of novellas that he autographs. It was more of a fantasy film, very loosely based on actual events in Pablo Neruda’s life, but with the spirit of how he affected people being shown again and again. His admirers wanted him to recite his poems, to write one especially for them, to dance and drink with them. His legend was all encompassing.
We hear the Inspector’s thoughts through voice over, his assigned job by the President to trail and arrest Neruda becoming a personal obsession with finding him regardless of any cost or danger to himself. In this way, the Inspector is the central character, whereas in real life, it would be Neruda whose thoughts and impressions of the chase are most important.
The director Pablo Larrain, also directed the recent film Jackie, a biopic about Jacqueline Kennedy. I have not seen Jackie as yet, and am curious as to how it will impress me, or if it will. I found the film Neruda to be somewhat disappointing. I felt like it couldn’t make up its mind whether to present itself as fact or fiction, and the voice over of the Inspector’s thoughts to ultimately be boring. I think if you have an interest in South American history, and particularly of this time period when Communism was a dirty word in countries striving to be Democratic, you would find it interesting.
If you’re more interested in the poetry of Neruda, I recommend watching instead Il Postino. The cinematography and music were outstanding, the story touching, and it will elicit the romantic in you.
Neruda is rated R for sexuality/nudity, and some language. It is currently playing at the Guild Cinema in Albuquerque through Tuesday, February 7th. It will be shown again at the same theater from February 20th through the 23rd.