Neruda Review

Neruda

The problem with history is how easy it is to forget.

Those who lived through the First World War are all gone now, as are many of the stories and lessons they had to pass on.

The same can almost be said of the Second World War, and it’s no coincidence that this has been accompanied by the recent rise in nationalism and fashionability of holocaust denial.

So, we need to find a way to tell important stories from our past to a new audience of millennials without boring their mobile phone addled tits off.

Director Pablo Larrain’s answer is to cast Gael Garcia Bernal as a sort of deadpan Chilean Clouseau type with a thing for hot teeth in his new film, Neruda.

Well, it worked for me.

Neruda is a quasi-surreal biopic about the Chilean Nobel prize winning poet and communist senator, Pablo Neruda, that takes a very loose approach to facts in the name of entertainment and audience engagement.

Beginning with a bizarrely opulent opening sequence where the Chilean halls of parliament double as a beautifully baroque urinal common people like me will never be granted access to, we hear Neruda speak out against the corrupt president of his day – to his face – before following this confirmed communist as he flees his own country to escape persecution.

Which, now that i think about it, is probably why Trump wants to build that wall of his. If everyone who called him on all his bullshit fled America, there’d be no-one left in the country other than a bunch of bat-shit crazy, trigger-happy violent white supremacists.

And the ku klux klan.

Declared a traitor by the state, but loved by the Chilean people for his beautiful poetry, Neruda becomes an outlaw on the run from a very different kind of detective.

As we follow Chile’s most artistic policeman on the trail of Chile’s most artistic writer, a dance begins where the lines between fiction and reality – protagonist and antagonist – blur into one.

As you may have gathered by now, Neruda is an eccentric movie.

Playing hard and loose with the truth, Larrain has conjured up something that mixes fact with a soupcon of surreal comedy – usually in the form of Bernal’s ludicrously over the top police detective.

The Chilean auteur has also married this unique approach to some sumptuous sun-drenched cinematography, with sweeping shots of Chile and the Andes mountains providing the impressive backdrop to Neruda’s wild goose chase away from his native country.

As a self-confessed philistine, I had no real idea who Neruda was before watching this – and Larrain’s film is as good a way to introduce ignorant folk like me to his words and his legacy as any.

The beautiful poetry performed in Spanish and English at the BFI screening I was at didn’t hurt either.

Of course, it’s hard to know where the line between fact and fiction lies when you take the same approach to historical accuracy as say Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer do.

But at least Larrain is honest about his ridiculously over the top approach, as opposed to the bald faced lies that come out of the white house these days.

Hell, maybe the alternative fact-ual biopic is the key to connecting future generations with important stories from their past.

Jonathan Campbell

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April 2017
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