The opening night of the Cine Latino Film Festival was typical fanfare synonymous with special events held at Palace Cinemas Como. Wines, soft drinks, cheese and fruit platters flowed as guests nibbled, nattered and networked amongst each other before being called in for the start of the opening night film, Neruda, from multi-award winning director Pablo Larrain.
A reimagining of the Nobel Prize-winning poet's pursuit into political exile, it comes complete with a free handed advantage of artistic licensing which made the film far more engaging than had it been a straight biography about poetry and politics.
Luis Gnecco stars as Pablo Neruda and Mercedes Morán as his wife Delia del Carril. The Policeman Óscar Peluchonneau appointed to arrest him is played by none other than Gael García Bernal, who played the role of Che Guevara in the amazing film The Motorcycle Diaries.
The year is 1948 and the Cold War has reached Chile. After accusing the left-wing government of betraying the Communist Party, Neruda finds himself fleeing the country with his wife Delia. Forced into hiding, and helped by many admirers, instead of laying low, he's inspired by his new life as a fugitive on the run. Artists led by Pablo Picasso all work towards Neruda's freedom. To him, this struggle is but an opportunity to reinvent his work and his life and to become a symbol for liberty, and a literary legend. It's during this time he writes his epic collection of poems, Canto General.
If you're expecting to find a straight out biography about the real Neruda and his life of poetry and politics, you'd be wrong. By the end of the movie, you'd have learned not much about the real Neruda. This is pure fiction that's very cleverly conceived and has you in its hold with some great scenery layered with lashes of fabrication and dramatic compositions.
If anything, you'd have crawled into the mind of Pablo Larrain, enjoyed the ride and come out at the other end, awash with the expansion he has produced. He has drawn from snippets of facts like Neruda loving to read crime fiction, and fashioned his own fictional character; a police inspector to hunt down the poet on the run, who is also the narrator.
Evoking the mood of the past by a rich retro-styled look, it gives the film atmosphere and colour. A scene that had me chuckling was when political discussions and arguments took place in a very opulent room which turned out to be a urinal. It was an introduction into what the rest of the film was going to be like; a visual feast.
Each main character holding their own, Gael García Bernal dominates with his intense yet fragile presence. A man on a journey of discovery himself, teased along the way by Neruda's clues that amount to a game of cat and mouse.
I was also completely mesmerised by the acting talents of a male entertainer/vocalist, who later relayed how Neruda made him feel an equal. Though a small role, this actor recounting his five minutes of fame in the presence of the great Neruda whom he admired greatly, was filled with rich, believable and engaging facial expressions.