Combustible Celluloid
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With: Luis Gnecco, Gael García Bernal, Mercedes Morán, Diego Muñoz, Pablo Derqui, Michael Silva, Jaime Vadell, Alfredo Castro, Marcelo Alonso, Francisco Reyes, Alejandro Goic, Emilio Gutiérrez Caba
Written by: Guillermo Calderón
Directed by: Pablo Larraín
MPAA Rating: R for sexuality/nudity and some language
Language: Spanish, French, with English subtitles
Running Time: 107
Date: 12/16/2016

Neruda (2016)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

The Saddest Lines

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Like his recent Jackie, Chilean director Pablo Larrain's second quasi-biopic twists the formula around and explores surprisingly intimate and universal themes, while still guiding expert performances.

In Neruda, the famous Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco) lives the high life as a communist, attending parties and sweeping women off their feet. In 1948, after a shift in political power, Neruda finds that he's no longer protected, and is actually hunted. He, along with his faithful wife Delia del Carril (Mercedes Moran), goes into hiding.

Policeman Oscar Peluchoneau (Gael Garcia Bernal), the son of a prostitute and possibly a famous police chief, pursues him with unrelenting vigor. Locked into his new simplistic lifestyle, Neruda finds pleasure in taunting the policeman, leaving him detective novels with notes inside. Eventually, the policeman gets close to the poet in a showdown in the snow. But who is really in charge of this chase?

Neruda features impressive camerawork, nimble and swirling, maneuvering around rooms and tense situations without blinking. It also occasionally forays into what seems like un-reality, such as obviously fake process shots while characters ride in cars.

Like a great essay, the movie seems to be about the idea of narratives, storytelling, words, and poetry. (Politics are also part of the mix, and it may help for viewers to know something about Chilean history.) Gael Garcia Bernal's character is determined not to be a "secondary character" in this story, and other exchanges analyze the effects that the characters have on other characters. It's wonderfully complex, but also wonderfully alive and playful. But the movie does not skimp on character either, and Luis Gnecco gives a towering performance as Neruda (he may as well actually be Neruda), with Bernal and Mercedes Moran matching him.

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