2017, R, 107 min. Directed by Pablo Larraín. Starring Gael García Bernal, Luis Gnecco, Mercedes Morán, Emilio Gutiérrez Caba.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Feb. 17, 2017

The American audience likely didn’t need a cheat sheet for Jackie, Chilean director Pablo Larraín’s portrait of Jacqueline Kennedy in the aftermath of JFK’s assassination, but the same audience could probably use a quick Wikipedia skim before diving into Neruda, his second dalliance with an icon released in the same calendar year. Even the rarer set that loves poetry and can recite by heart, “Tonight I can write the saddest lines,” might have a blind spot when it comes to the poet Pablo Neruda’s significant history as a political figure.

Larraín’s film throws the viewer straight into the thrum, as the newly elected president Gabriel González Videla outlaws Communism and Neruda (Gnecco) is forced underground. Gael García Bernal plays chief of police Óscar Peluchonneau, tasked with hunting Neruda down; he also narrates, with a film noir detective’s disdain for wealth and privilege, both of which this “man of the people” most assuredly enjoys. It’s a cat and mouse story – only it’s Neruda who so often wears the smirk of the cat who caught the cream, while the detective resembles nothing so much as a rat with a mustache.

The subtitles move fast; if you have to decide between pictures and words, choose the pictures: This is a gorgeously composed and shot (by Sergio Armstrong) film, languid and dreamy with purple winter twilights, solar flares, and bordello reveries. The story takes on shades of a darkly comic Western in its final stretch, anticipating a final showdown between Neruda and Peluchonneau as the former attempts to escape through a mountain pass into Argentina. The pulse quickens, but Larraín’s commitment to a poetic aesthetic remains. This is a strange and beguiling film to the end.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Pablo Larraín Films
A portrait of the First Lady in the aftermath of JFK's assassination

Marc Savlov, Dec. 23, 2016

The Club
Chile's Oscar nominee is a dark drama about pedophile priests

Marc Savlov, March 11, 2016

More by Kimberley Jones
The kids are better than alright in Olivia Wilde's raucous, resonant comedy

May 24, 2019

The Sun Is Also a Star
Is it destiny that brings these two lovers together, or the bland demands of a YA adaptation?

May 17, 2019


Neruda, Pablo Larraín, Gael García Bernal, Luis Gnecco, Mercedes Morán, Emilio Gutiérrez Caba

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle