Here is a film that has won awards in South America and in the USA, for Best Foreign Film. It tells the story of an investigator who launches a search for Pablo Neruda, a Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet, who became a fugitive in his own country for his Communist leanings during the 1940s. It is directed by Pablo Larrain, whose last film was Jackie, which won an Oscar nomination for its star, Natalie Portman.
The film is set in the late 1940s as Neruda goes on the run after making an inflammatory speech in Congress. The President wants the Communist poet to be arrested and humiliated. Gael Garcia Bernal is the dogged police officer Oscar Peluchonneau entrusted with the task of hunting him down.
The Chilean poet is a long way removed from the Che Guevara-like stereotype of the Latin American revolutionary. As portrayed by Luis Gnecco, he resembles a slightly overweight provincial bank manager. He’s a glutton, womaniser, and a hedonist who takes an immense sensual pleasure in all of his creature comforts. There are plenty of scenes here of him enjoying himself in brothels and somehow managing to live the high life, even when he is on the run.
Guillermo Calderón’s screenplay has a self-reflexive quality; some critics have described it as post-modern. There is a sense that the entire story has been conjured up as a game by Neruda. The police officer is one of Neruda’s most fervent admirers and reads Neruda’s poetry even as he arrests the poet’s accomplices. His investigations allow us to see Neruda’s personality in all its contradictions. The film touches on the feuding and oppression in post-war Chile and we even catch a brief glimpse of the future dictator Pinochet, who’s overseeing a prison camp. However, there is an elegance and wry humour in Larrain’s approach that stops the film ever from feeling like political agit-prop.
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Venue: William Loveless Hall