Give this much to Pablo Larraín: When he makes a film biography, he doesn’t take the obvious path, even if his own path leads him a bit astray. As he did with the recent Jackie, the director goes for an unconventional structure in this narrowly focused profile on Chilean poet/politician Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco), exploring his time in exile circa 1948 for his Communist views via fictionalized police officer Peluchonneau (Gael García Bernal), who is tasked with tracking him down. There’s a playful meta vibe to much of the action—“In this fiction, we all revolve around the protagonist” a character says at one point—and Gnecco makes Neruda an earthy, often self-absorbed philanderer unworthy of the devotion of his wife (Mercedes Morán). But it’s hard to get a handle on what Larraín and screenwriter Guillermo Calderón mean to accomplish through Peluchonneau, and the backstory of his illegitimate parentage meant to fuel his Javert-esque pursuit. There’s simply never enough connection between the two men to make it feel like the primary conflict belongs there, as opposed to anywhere else that Neruda’s copious appetites might lead him.
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