Review / ‘Neruda’ (MA) ****

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AS Pablo Neruda, Chilean poet Ricardo Eliécer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto (1904–1973) won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1971.

Once a senator, he was a Communist who didn’t embrace the Marxist-Leninist version.

Combined with the power of his writings, Neruda’s political commitment and popularity put him offside with President Videla who in 1948 issued a warrant for his arrest.

Director Pablo Larrain (“Jackie”) has made an uncompromising yet amusing and brave film telling how police inspector Oscar Peluchonneau tried to execute that warrant.

With little if any information confirming that Peluchonneau actually existed, it scarcely matters if he didn’t. In evoking an artist and the nature of his art, historical fidelity and literal-minded dramatisation go only so far. Fiction can bring us closer to the truth.

Telling what might have been, Guillermo Calderon’s screenplay finds mordant humour in the interplay between the poet’s readiness to risk his life in a battle of wits, a thorn as much in the side of his loyal wife Delia (Mercedes Moran) who accompanied him into hiding as it might have been in the side of the bumbling Peluchonneau, beside whom that other famous comic movie cop Clouseau looks like a genius!

Enhancing that effect, Gael Garcia Bernal plays him straight. In breathtaking Andes scenery, Peluchonneau’s final hours are sombre moments.

While Garcia Bernal may have top billing, one of Chile’s favourite comic actors, Luis Gnecco, sweeps all before him as Neruda. In 1996, the late great Philippe Noiret played Neruda in the Oscar-nominated “Il Postino”. I am bound to say that in “Neruda”, Gnecco is right up there beside one of my favourite actors.

At Palace Electric

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Dougal Macdonald
“CityNews” film reviewer

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