Hot on the heels of last month’s Jackie, Pablo Larrain returns with the equally formally daring biopic Neruda.
Visually sumptuous and surprisingly humorous, the Chilean director’s latest stars Luis Gnecco as the Nobel Prize-winning poet, diplomat and politician Pablo Neruda, and Gael García Bernal as a fascist police officer attempting to track him down.
How did you approach such a multifaceted figure?
We realised early on in the process that we couldn’t put all of Neruda in one film. He was someone who loved cooking, wine and women. He was a diplomat who travelled the world. He was a literature expert. He was the leader of the Communist Party. He could have been president of Chile if he hadn’t stepped down to make way for Salvador Allende. And on top of that, he was a poet who described the Chilean people better than our own historians. His universe is too complex and vast. Eventually, [screenwriter] Guillermo Calderón came up with a solution which was liberating for all of us: to approach the film from the point of view of the fictional police officer played by Gael García Bernal. We realised that instead of making a film about Neruda we were making a film about Neruda’s cosmos, his universe.
Why choose the road-movie form?
The characters are in constant movement, and the road movie is a genre that implies a transformation of the characters as the film progresses. I believe that we all went through a transformation as we were making the film. Our understanding of the material, of Neruda and his poetry, improved. We made the same trip he made, which made the process even more special. To be honest, whenever I think about the shoot I get tired – we had 68 different locations, which meant that we had to move more than once a day!
The film draws equal attention to Neruda’s artistic and political lives – did you mean to comment on the place of the intellectual within society compared to today?
Neruda wrote poetry that attempted to be transformative – he wanted those who read it to be affected ideologically. He strove to administer and convoke a way of thinking, and ultimately, a way of understanding the world. And it wasn’t only Neruda. The Chilean artists from the first half of the 20th century, the filmmakers, painters and poets – these were people who wanted to promote change in those who were bold enough to look at or read their works. The same really can’t be said of many artists today. When Neruda received the Nobel Prize for Literature, he spoke at length about his time as a fugitive, a time when he learnt the true meaning of the word fraternity, being helped by people he didn’t know and who didn’t know who he was. He also admitted that he didn’t know whether he had lived, written or dreamt these memories. When we read that, it opened the door to the kind of film we wanted to make.
You show a man whose bourgeois lifestyle is in contradiction with his communist ideals…
You have to show the paradoxes of the character – if not, it’s like filming a statue. In Chile, the film received a lot of criticism, and we were accused of distorting Neruda’s character. But no one was able to deny that Neruda did the things we show in the film. Not even his own foundation. That he was able to harbour such paradoxes shows how much of an exceptional individual he was.
Neruda opens in Berlin cinemas on February 23. Check our OV search engine for showtimes.