Film Review: Neruda (Chile, 2016) is a complex bio-pic that leaves you questioning what is truth and fantasy

Neruda is a film that truly embodies its subject matter. But this proves to be one double-edged sword because it is also to its betterment and detriment. This bio-pic about the eponymous, beloved Chilean poet uses the lyrical qualities the writer employed to bend the narrative in so many ways that the result is virtually imperceptible.

This film is directed by Pablo Larraín who audiences will be familiar with thanks to the bio-pic, Jackie. There are some similarities between these two films because both are slow and nuanced affairs about a high-profile individual (in their respective countries.) Whereas Jackie focuses on the trauma and stress in the aftermath of JFK’s murder, Neruda uses a whole other plot layer and an imagined character to drive the story.

Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco) was a man who won favour with the working classes in the 1940s through his amazing writing and his ideas about communism. But the reality of his actual life was somewhat different. Neruda was a complex and contradictory man who enjoyed women, hedonism, gluttony and sex, basically all of life’s vices. After a public falling out with Chile’s president, Neruda is forced into hiding. He is pursued by a determined detective (Gael García Bernal who worked with Larraín on No) and a man who also doubles as the writer’s most ardent fan.

This film is an ambitious one because it plays with the bio-pic genre and warps it into a kind of dramatic meta-narrative. But it is also a movie that is far from perfect because at times it suffers from being drowned by the very excesses the writer enjoyed. The pacing is laboured and it feels too bloated, long and free-wheeling for its own benefit. There will be viewers with a greater understanding of Chilean history who may find this film more entertaining, but for the majority of people it will simply be too hard to distinguish between where the art ends and where Naruda’s life begins. In all, a wasted opportunity.

Review Score: TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Neruda opens in Australian cinemas on May 25, with preview screenings in select cinemas this weekend.