November 27, 2016 -- After watching this film, I had some regrets. One, that I never learned the romance language, Spanish, two, that I did not know enough about the history of Chile, and three, that I don't have enough of an artistic soul to really appreciate this film in the spirit in which it was made. This is a very flamboyant, romantic and artistic film.
This is a wildly romantic biographical drama about the great poet widely known by his pen name, Pablo Neruda (birth name: Ricardo Eliécer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto). The beauty of Neruda's poems (lost in translation, it seems) and how the people of Chile loved Neruda (played by Luis Gnecco) and were inspired by him is at the heart of this film.
My frustration in reading Neruda's poetry in the English subtitles of the film, reminded me of some dialog in the Jim Jarmush film, “Paterson,” which is also about a poet. To paraphrase, reading poetry translated from another language is like taking a shower wearing a raincoat.
Set in Chile in 1948, the film opens with Neruda being forced to quit his position as a Chilean Communist Party Senator when Communism was outlawed in Chile under pressure from the United States.
A warrant is issued for Neruda's arrest. He goes into hiding with his second wife, Delia del Carril (played by Mercedes Morán). A policeman, Oscar Peluchoneau (Gael García Bernal of “The Motorcycle Diaries”) pursues Neruda and tries to ruin his reputation. A strange relationship develops between Neruda and his pursuer, Oscar. Neruda leaves books for Oscar to find and Oscar reads them. Slowly Neruda gets into Oscar's head and begins to change the way he thinks.
Neruda is a womanizer who likes group sex. Oscar tries to use this to ruin Neruda's reputation, but he is thwarted by an uncooperative witness during a radio broadcast. Neruda always seems to be one step ahead of Oscar. At one point he hides in plain sight and is overlooked by Oscar.
In a conversation with Delia del Carril, Oscar learns that he is a minor character in a story invented by Neruda himself, and that is why he can never quite catch Neruda. Oscar, of course insists he is no minor character and vows to kill Neruda and become famous. He pursues Neruda down the long roads south in Chili, and high into the Andes as Neruda tries to escape over a mountain pass into Argentina.
Eventually, the relationship between Neruda and Oscar becomes extremely intertwined and surreal. Oscar feels that unless Neruda speaks Oscar's name he will cease to exist, and Neruda does speak his name, but as to whether or not Oscar exists in real life, or simply in art, or if the fictional character is alive or dead at the film's end, that is a matter of interpretation.
The film has a romantic view of communism, which essentially ended in much of the west during the Cold War. We see Augusto Pinochet briefly in the film, years before he came to power in a bloody U.S. backed overthrow of the Marxist regime of Salvador Allende. The Pinochet regime reportedly had Neruda murdered in 1973, shortly after Pinochet took power. Pinochet's regime tortured and killed thousands of people in Chile.
None of that later, darker history is in this movie, which covers a period many years before Allende and Pinochet came to power. In the meantime Neruda would go on to win the International Peace Prize and the Nobel Prize for Literature as well as the Lenin Peace Prize. He would later come to regret his idealistic notions about Joseph Stalin and Mao Tse-tung. In this film, however, we see Neruda the artist, Neruda the romantic, Neruda the trickster, seemingly able to foil the powers of darkness with just his wit and courage. This film rates a B.
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