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Neruda – Movie Review

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Neruda – Movie Review

Rating: C (Average)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy The Orchard

Pablo Neruda was a fascinating figure, a politician turned poet and eventually fugitive. Thus, there is a lot that can be done to explore his character and why he proved so divisive. Director Pablo Larrain decides to focus on his escape from Communist witch hunting Chile and there is enough material that can be gained out of this part of his life. However, the final result is surprisingly tedious with odd directorial decisions and languid pacing. The film almost appears to take a humourous spin on the subject, but watching it makes one start to imagine the spark a filmmaker like Wes Anderson could have brought to the project.

Larrain’s No managed to dig deeply into the political climate of Chile in the 1980s and Neruda doesn’t do that as successfully in its depiction of the country during the late 1940s. The anti-Communist feelings at the time are touched upon, but not fully explored in a satisfying way. Neruda himself is written in a disappointing manner, as the film barely touches on what made his poetry leave such an impact. He is mostly portrayed as going to occasional parties and trying to deal with his new environment. For a story about a fugitive on the run, the script lacks the necessary excitement and there’s little attachment to its titular figure.

Larrain gives a good amount of screen time to the inspector chasing after Neruda, who is portrayed as an incompetent figure. The script tries to present him as a co-lead with frequent meta-narration, suggesting he wants to be the main character of this story. It’s a device that’s cloying and doesn’t fit with the rest of the film. Gael Garcia Bernal does his best in the role, but the direction he’s given is too confusing in how it wants to present this character. If he is meant to be perceived as a threat, it never comes across that way in the film.

The editing also plays a role in the skewed pacing. Larrain employs the odd device of having awkward cuts in the middle of conversations and characters continuing their discussions in other rooms. It feels like a way to make the scenes more interesting, but all it does is confound the viewer and take one out of the story. The weakest portion of Neruda comes in the final third. What should be a tense sequence of events with the Inspector finally coming closer to Neruda ends up feeling dragged out. Neruda is not a lengthy film, running only a little over a hundred minutes, yet it feels like an eternity. In the end, we barely learn anything about the figures at the centre of it.

It’s disappointing Neruda ends up as slow paced as it is. The performances are solid and it’s easy to appreciate Pablo Larrain throwing a wrench into the biopic formula. However, character development is minimal and the strange editing choices results in a lengthy experience that tests one’s patience. Where is the thrill and uncertainty of whether the titular poet/politician will be caught? Where is the feeling of being transported to another time period, one where one couldn’t freely give their political views? It’s almost non-existent and this legendary figure of Chilean history deserves a better cinematic treatment than the film delivers.


Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison