Neruda, Chile’s official entry for the Academy Award’s Best Foreign Film, is a mesmerizing, beautiful film that is not so much about the real life of Pablo Neruda, but what it means to be “Nerudian.”
The film takes the real life chase of the Chilean communist/senator-turned-fugitive and weaves it together with the point of view of the chief investigator trying to capture Neruda three years after the second World War—what the film doesn’t do, however, is tell this story straight.
Neruda was a poet and a communist, his words roused the spirit of the poor and inspired them, though, and the film touches upon this, Neruda himself was a “champagne communist”—not really knowing the struggles of those on the ground and rather attached to his material possessions and aristocratic pastimes. The film is narrated by the police commissioner, Oscar Peluchonneau, who fancies himself a bit of a writer and a poet, his narrations beautiful and poetic, almost as a storybook read to us. He, too, is inspired by Neruda, even as his chase consumes his life. As is the film—everything is beautiful, flowing, weaves in and out of real and imaginary—Nerudian. Peluchonneau, as he tells the story, is determined to not make himself the secondary character, while Neruda just exists, ever slightly outside his reach.
It’s a film about the struggle of being an artist and the struggle to matter and leave a legacy—a struggle that everyone feels in their lifetime, police commissioner, poet, whatever you are. Maybe that’s Neruda’s real legacy—the flawed man himself was interesting—but director Pablo Larraín knows the fantasy of being Nerudian is better.