This fanciful tale of the persecution of, arguably, Chile’s greatest poet (Luis Gnecco is superb in the title role) by Detective Óscar Peluchonneau (Gael García Bael, also in fine form doing double duty as the voice-over narrator) is a wonderfully crafted, richly layered cinematic poem in its own right.
The bulk of the events are pure fabrication, giving Larraín licence to bring Guillermo Calderón’s fantastic script to fascinating life. Particularly effective in setting the overall tone is the technique of moving characters while in continuous dialogue into different spaces in the twinkling of an eye. Generous helpings of the poet’s work (notably the set piece, I can say the saddest lines) are both expected and savoured. Adding Charles Ives’ The Unanswered Question into the mix at key moments deftly reinforces the universality of art and subtext of the composer’s aural description of “A Cosmic Landscape.” Edvard Grieg is also a frequent contributor to the tracks with his “Death of Ase” adding beautifully muted poignancy.
In the supporting roles, Mercedes Morán is a standout playing Neruda’s second wife Delia with passion, conviction and dignity even in the face of insults to herself and her sex; Michael Silva also turns in a nuanced performance as Álvaro Jara, a much younger Communist Party member who is not afraid to speak truth to power.
It’s a difficult task to create tension in a cat-and-mouse format where the ending—to most—is already known. But, like any good poem, it’s more about the how than the what, leaving few viewers disappointed with the outcome. JWR