“NERUDA” My rating: B
107 minutes | MPAA rating: R
Pablo Larrain’s “Neruda” might be viewed as a chase movie.
It’s inspired the story of Chilean poet and Communist lawmaker Pablo Neruda, who for several months in 1948 eluded a nationwide manhunt before crossing the Andes and eventually escaping to Europe.
But “Neruda” is more than a slice of suspense. It’s a nifty character study of a talented, exuberant and deeply flawed man as seen through the eyes of the policeman who is chasing him.
As the film begins Neruda (Luis Gnecco) is running out of political rope. His far left politics and savage commentaries on Chile’s president have made him an outsider. Now the government has outlawed the Communist Party and is rounding up its members.
As perhaps the world’s most famous Communist (he’s right up there with Stalin and Mao), Neruda is a prime target. An underground organization of leftists are working overtime to hide Neruda and his wife, always keeping them just a few steps ahead of the authorities.
That part of Guillermo Calderon’s screenplay is based on fact.
Total fiction, though, is the character of Oscar Peluchonneau (Gael Garcia Bernal), the Javert-like police inspector in charge of the search.
Oscar serves as our narrator, and his fascistic view of Neruda is far less idealized than we’ve come to expect (remember the hit film “Il Postino”?). In fact, the film drips with sarcastic dialogue at the expense of the “movement.”
Oscar has little tolerance for well-off intellectuals who claim to be concerned for the plight of the working poor.
“Communists hate to work. They’d rather burn churches. It makes them feel more alive.”
“If we had a Bolshevik revolution they [ party intellectuals ] would be the first to run away.”
Not that Oscar has many illusions about the flaws of the government he serves: “My president has a boss…the president of the United States.”
If Oscar is a single-minded pursuer, Neruda always finds time to indulge his sensuous nature…often to the dismay of his keepers.
This fat, middle-aged man is hell with the ladies, sneaking out of hideouts to hit the whore houses where he gets naked, drinks, recites poetry, and retires with two or three girls in tow.
A practical joker even when his freedom is at risk, Neruda insists on driving past the presidential mansion late at night with horn blaring. Why should his opponents get a good night’s rest?
Neruda has a big ego and considers himself untouchable. Often he and his wife Delia (Mercedes Moran) seem like a couple of giddy teens on a cross-country stolen car adventure.
Oscar is certainly right about how removed the Naradas of the world are from the peons they champion. The couple are horribly spoiled. When Delia is chided for leaving their latest haunt a smelly mess, she replies that “hygiene is a bourgeoise value.”
Even so, the dogged cop can’t help but be impressed by Neruda’s words. The man may have feet of clay; the poet, on the other hand, speaks with a voice that cannot be ignored.
And in the end Oscar wonders about his own role in the vast sweep of history. Is he a major actor like Neruda? Or just a supporting player?
| Robert W. Butler