Neruda Review
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Chilean director Pablo Larraín is having quite a fall. His English-language biopic, Jackie, has already attracted some award season buzz—especially for star Natalie Portman. And now, just weeks after the release of Jackie, his Spanish-language biopic, Neruda—Argentina’s submission for this year’s Academy Awards—gets its own chance to shine.

Neruda follows the story of Chilean poet and highly influential communist Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco) as he’s forced to go on the run to escape arrest. As all of the prominent members of the nation’s communist party are put in jail during the late 1940s, Neruda decides that he’d rather just disappear. But instead of quietly going into hiding, he travels from one hiding place to another, still attending parties and writing more poetry while taunting Óscar Peluchonneau (Gael García Bernal), the police inspector who’s been tasked with finding the fugitive and publically humiliating him.

Most biopics tend to view their subject through rose-colored glasses, focusing their attention on the most remarkable, most heroic, most inspiring parts of the story. But this fictionalized biography is so much more creative than the typical biopic. The film is narrated by Inspector Peluchonneau, the poet’s opponent in this game of cat-and-mouse—and, as such, it casts the character in a very different light. While many see him as a spokesman for the common worker, the film shows him as spoiled and self-indulgent. There’s absolutely nothing common about Neruda or his lifestyle. His luxurious home or his wild parties clearly contradicts the things that he writes and speaks about—and his contradictions and oversized ego make him a difficult character to like.

Meanwhile, the narration also creates a fascinating character in the inspector. Generally incompetent yet with his own delusions of grandeur, he seems to imagine himself as the hero of a hard-boiled detective story—and the film takes on a style to match. And that cool period style—along with the imaginative storytelling—makes for an entertaining caper.

Admittedly, the manhunt does begin to feel rather long and drawn-out after a while. And with a multitude of fast-paced subtitles to read and digest, some of the fun may get lost along the way. Some of the symbolism seems to get lost in the translation, too. It does take a little bit of effort, but it all still makes for an enjoyable adventure.

Neruda definitely isn’t the typical straightforward biopic. Instead, it takes a famous figure and tells his story from a clever—and unexpected—perspective. And the result is smart and captivating and surprisingly amusing.

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