Tag Archives: Pablo Larrain

The Saddest Lines


by Hope Madden

Pablo Larraín is having quite a year. In theaters already with his insightful vision of grief, celebrity and politics, Jackie, the Chilean filmmaker returns with a page from his own nation’s history books – Neruda.

Again eschewing the traditional biopic structure, Neruda drops us into the life of Chile’s most beloved poet and most famous Communist as political tides are changing. Post WWII, Pablo Neruda’s outspoken support of his party puts him on the wrong side of his government.

Though Neruda (Luis Gnecco) became the voice of resistance in Chile and around the world, his own life hardly mirrored the communist principles he championed. A poet, a lover and a man of grand excess, he spoke eloquently of a struggle he refused to live himself.

A fascinating set of conundrums, Neruda is a hard man to pin down cinematically – so Larraín doesn’t exactly try.

When Chile calls for Neruda’s arrest, we follow him underground, as does Inspector Oscar Peluchonneau (Gael García Bernal – scene stealer).

Here is where Larrain, working from Guillermo Calderon’s inventive screenplay, gets a bit experimental to better serve his subject.

From Peluchonneau’s point of view, the film becomes hard-boiled detective pulp, a narrative device that allows Larraín to better explore the line between fact and fiction – and poetry.

The investigator becomes the antagonist in Neruda’s imagined persecution, allowing him the mythical martyrdom and drama he feels a man of his greatness deserves.

Gnecco’s performance hits all the right marks, creating a presence that’s simultaneously admirable, aggravating and disappointingly vain. Fine support from Mercedes Morán as Neruda’s longsuffering wife buoys the performance by articulating the effect he had on those around him.

But the fictional Peluchonneau runs away with the film. García Bernal’s oddball incompetent with his own delusions of grandeur brings color to the film as it transports the audience to a more literary landscape.

The conceit doesn’t always work. It often feels too cute. But there are several scenes where reality and fiction collide without a clear winner – one with Morán and a snowy finale, in particular – that elevate the entire project.

It’s an arresting and lovely near-miss.


Dictatorship Just Doesn’t Sell

By Hope Madden

“We have to find a product that is attractive to the people.”

That may not sound like democracy to you, but in Chile in 1988, advertising became the new democracy.

At least, that is, according to co-writer/director Pablo Larrain’s Oscar nominee, the slyly comical No.

When longtime Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet caved to international pressure, allowing a national referendum to determine whether he would rule for another 8 years, the wildly fractured “No” campaign decided to employ marketing tactics to strengthen their chances.

Gael Garcia Bernal plays Rene, the young upstart ad exec – rat tail, acid washed jeans and all – who seems to embody Pinochet’s myopic view of Chilean prosperity. His advertising gig keeps all the lures of capitalism at his fingertips. He even has a microwave – the country must be doing OK, right?

But looking beyond his new car and soap opera photo shoot, he can see the oppression masquerading as abundance. So he relies on what he understands – consumerism – to craft an opposition campaign that’s more commercial than anything the world had seen.

Bernal gives his character a fascinating set of traits. He’s shallow enough to recommend boiling down decades of oppression, vanishings and abuse to a jingle and a Pepsi-style ad, but his lost expression and tenderness with his son (Pascal Montero) show a man struggling to do right by his country.

Larrain‘s aesthetic is all ’88 – it feels like you’re watching an overused VHS, but that low-rent quality gives his film more than a throwback feel. It articulates the sense of a population kidding itself about its quality of living.

Not all is as light as it seems in Rene’s world, and the same can be said for Larrain’s film. He builds a real sense of foreboding, of impending danger. When Pinochet’s campaign accepts the popularity of the No approach, they abandon their underestimation and hire Rene’s boss to rebrand them. It’s a pissing contest between two colleagues on one level, but beneath that there’s something sinister, something that illustrates the way a regime’s ugliness spreads by way of quiet acquiescence.

Plus, there are mimes!

No meanders, loses focus, and perhaps undersells Chile’s tragic backstory as openly as the No campaign’s ad exec did, but the film gets points for its clever, layered examination of a precedent setting approach to the toppling of a regime.

All because Chile rocked the vote.