Pablo Neruda was a Chilean poet and politician whose communist leanings forced him into hiding and then exile in the late 1940’s. This film very tightly covers that period and concentrates on Neruda (Luis Gnecco) and his pursuer Police Prefect Oscar Peluchonneau (Gael García Bernal).
Neruda is something of a maverick in Chilean society being a politician, a poet and a communist. A thorn in the side of the Government, he’s deemed an undesirable and forced into hiding flitting from place to place.
Pursuing and always one step behind is Peluchonneau, a policeman doing his duty but seemingly never that comfortable with it; possibly with some sympathy for his quarry. He’s left books by Neruda, taunting and teasing him, playing games: an intellectual cat and mouse. They never meet – there’s no Heat like contrivance here – and that gives the film a sense of the metaphysical and a dreamlike quality.
Neruda sees himself as almost godlike - his ego inflating at the news that 300 policemen are after him - at times he almost appears to want to be caught, just to be the centre of attention. Indeed, even while supposedly keeping a low profile he continues to pursue his interests in women and bacchanalian decadence. At the same time he keeps the faith and through his network gets his poetry out to the world.
Plots are hatched to humiliate Neruda such as the attempt to paint him as a bigamist which crashes and burns in a very public way, in a quietly humorous scene. So, its left to Peluchonneau to get on with the practical detective work in the time-honoured manner.
Written by Guillermo Calderón and directed by Pablo Larraín this a beautifully constructed film with the complex, literate script deftly complementing the fluidity of the camera work. It’s not the fastest of films but it is enthralling as the pursuit continues and more is revealed about the central characters.
The whole cast are excellent but plaudits will rightly go to Gnecco and García Bernal in the lead roles. Gnecco is outstanding portraying a man who for all his devotion to the people, is deeply flawed, and at times really unpleasant. He’s matched at every step by García Bernal as the Prefect doing his job but under the weight with his own doubts and frustrations.