Neruda is a surreal biopic about the Chilean Communist/poet. Set in 1948, when the Communist party was banned and Neruda had to flee the country, the movie is structured as a cat-and-mouse chase. The detective assigned to track down Neruda, played with comic perfection by Gael García Bernal, is a parody of a self-serious sleuth, a “half-moron, half-idiot.” The most entertaining sections of the movie feature this detective. The other sections of the movie are slower—sometimes they deal with Neruda the politician, operating in code; sometimes they deal with Neruda the poet, and fans of poetry may delight; and sometimes they deal with Neruda the husband and hedonist, showing his affinity for cross-dressing and cavorting with prostitutes. It’s hard to say where the movie stands politically; in one fine scene, a poor woman who says she’s been a Communist all her life snipes at Neruda: When the Communist Utopia comes, will we all be like me, poor, or will we all be like you, powerful? Therefore, it is power that the movie emphasizes—even the rich liked Neruda, the movie suggests—and what it means to be in the orbit of power, even as an antagonist, like the detective.
By Alec Julian & Carrie White