J. Hoberman at Artforum:
WITH HIS NEW FILM, Neruda, Chile’s master of the political gothic, Pablo Larraín, exhumes a sacred monster: namely, his nation’s 1971 Nobel Laureate, the poet Pablo Neruda. Hardly a biopic, Nerudafocuses on a brief, if dramatic, period in its subject’s life—a fifteen-month period from January 1948 through March 1949 during which the poet, an elected senator and an outspoken member of the banned Chilean Communist Party, went underground, finally escaping over the Andes to Argentina.
Neruda devotes only a dozen pages to the topic in his memoirs, half of them concerning the exciting last stage of his getaway. The writing is routinely self-aggrandizing: “Even the stones of Chile” knew his voice, he brags, only partially in jest. The movie, written by Guillermo Calderón, is wryly admiring of Neruda’s imperturbable chutzpah.
Embodied with dour, deadpan magnificence by Luis Gnecco (who played a leftist organizer in No , the third installment of Larraín’s anti-Pinochet trilogy), Neruda is introduced running a gauntlet of flashbulbs as he enters the senatorial washroom to denounce the nation’s sellout president, Gabriel González Videla. The tumult continues as leftists party in masquerade. Neruda, dressed in a burnoose as Lawrence of Arabia, thrills comrades and admirers with his poet’s voice, as his indulgent second wife (charmingly portrayed by the Argentinean actress Mercedes Morán) calls it, sonorously reciting, not for the last time, the youthful love poem that begins, “Tonight I can write the saddest lines. . . .”