This is the final day of the 5 Days of Platino. After the review, as always, you’ll see my final rating of the five films, although it’ll be pretty obvious. This review was originally written in Spanish, and now has been translated by yours truly for your pleasure. If it doesn’t speak much about the film, well, you might figure out why.
by Jaime Grijalba.
One just has to look at the first few seconds of credits of this film by Pablo Larraín to note the road that has traveled: winning international funding, support from television companies from all over the world, association with production companies from Europe, and to add to all that, its presence in what still is the most glamorous and important festival in the world, Cannes. I can imagine the Larraín Brothers using the trips done during the road that ‘No’ (2012, Larraín) and ‘El Club’ (2015, Larraín) traveled, having meetings with producers, applying to funding and telling about their new project, excited telling everyone they came across that they were trying to do a movie about Pablo Neruda.
The Nobel Prize winner poet, at this point, is taken for granted in Chilean culture, and thus isn’t as recognized (it’s classic to prefer poets that didn’t receive much press or awards, at times, suspiciously, only for that), although he doesn’t receive the same treatment internationally. Many times it’s one of the only latinamerican poets that are seriously considered in studies and literature programs from United States and Europe, as well as the scene of latinamerican studies of literature in countries like South Korea and Japan. The phrase “nobody’s prophet on one’s land” comes to mind, a cliché, but here it applies, at least on surface. It shouldn’t be curious, then, the interest that producing companies around the world have when they are given the oportunity to invest in a film about such an awarded poet. Then, Larraín would be the one that announces the prophet, announcing the good news that it’s coming to the world, before he appears.
My question will be, now that the film will be seen, how many of those producers will feel scammed when they see this mixture that seems more like a first novel by a writer that thinks that its experimental/genre-breaking and that was badly translated (or maybe translated way too literally) to the big screen. Clearly many of them expected a film about Neruda, and what I’m saying isn’t that this is or isn’t a real portrait, or that it offends the legacy of a poet that honestly holds little interest to me. I say that the film, from its structure, as for what it shows, it doesn’t work to talk about who was Neruda as a person, his poetry, the kind of character that he could be, of his honest political ideal… which is problematic if your film is called ‘Neruda’.
Desperately trying to grasp some air, the script tries to extreme its possibilities, staying far away from a possible operatic and formalist tone that tinted the “other” ‘Neruda’ (2014, Basoalto), which told the same episode of the fugue of the poet to Argentina, but with a respect and poetic that finally turned out suffocating. Here it tries to alleviate having a Neruda that is exaggeratedly libertine, which gives the character certain interest from a critical standpoint (even if it lacks truth, which doesn’t matter, I repeat), but all of this world is again suffocated and trapped by a forced structure that reminds to this prime novelist mentioned before, which searches for a structured style that doesn’t let the plot breathe and leaves any possible interest in the middle ground of a cinematographic and literature auto-referential (which doesn’t have any reason beyond a small reference to the interest that Neruda has for crime novels) and the attentive art direction work which calls too much attention to itself just for existing.
The first half of the film is fun, as the game between the narrator police character (played by Gael García) and the constant party ambience that predominates (from the bathroom of the Senate as well as the poet’s home) is interesting, as they don’t influence much on each other. But the constant meditative tone of Peluchonneau ends up filling you up and finally everything returns to his rhythm, paused, filled with silences, in which there’s nothing to reflect on, nothing to think about, nothing to contemplate. The second half, then, turns boring, slow, ridiculously recursive and repetitive. The literary and script exercise that wanted to be done with the idea of the main and secondary character is what finally ties the film to follow a structure, a tone and a voice-over that flows into boredom, into ridiculousness in its most solemn moments (the final scene in the snow that has comical tones which, honestly, I don’t think was intentional).
But the acting of the main characters stand out and manage to float above the mediocrity of the script and its pseudo intellectual advances. What could’ve been the promise of a thrilling and fun film using real facts as basis turns into a self-imposed solemnity which ends up killing the rhythm that the film had at a certain point. And the idea of the fiction doesn’t transmit itself to other faces of the film, beyond a failed intention with retro-projection in the car scenes, which reach a climax of ridiculousness as it’s used in a motorcycle driving scene. Comparable, in a sense with the fake baby of ‘American Sniper’ (2015, Eastwood), as it shows how an element that is disregarded tells, from a movie that was ill-advises since its start.