Chilean director Pablo Larraín’s follow-up to The Club is this superb film, an ‘anti-bio’ of one of Chile’s most vital and intriguing figures: poet-diplomat and politician Pablo Neruda.
It’s a brilliantly ambiguous, insidious portrait of an often venal and hypocritical man. Larraín’s skill is to draw him as someone who nevertheless simultaneously deserves his heroic status as a key figure in Chile’s struggle.
1948: Neruda finds himself on the wrong side of an anti-communist drive and is forced into hiding. Details of this exile are delivered in heavy narration by Gael García Bernal, playing a detective who is part-antagonist, part-acolyte, to Luis Gnecco’s Neruda. Both actors bring considerable charm to their mutual pursuit, a beautifully shot dance in which it’s uncertain who is chasing whom.
It’s an incredibly satisfying film, and gratifying to see a director with this breadth and scale of talents using them in a sustained, light and morally ambivalent way, rather than equating epic scale with certainty and pomp. The final scenes, played against the jaw-dropping scenery of the snowy Andes, are equal parts answer and question to the searching questions asked by Larraín throughout.