The Stanza Resistance
There’s a seemingly never ending cargo load of words pulling up every minute at the loading bay that is our struggling modern minds. Shipped in by various mediums/vehicles and a myriad of stations across the land, traversing the globe on a ceaseless and ever increasing schedule. And we have conditioned ourselves into thinking that if we take our foot off the dead man’s switch of information, our train of thought will derail, we’ll miss something vital, even life saving. If we don’t constantly stoke the boiler with words we might lose steam/momentum, or even worse buffer our very reason. Of course you only have to follow a certain ‘President’s’ twitter account to see that the vast majority of this ‘information’ and use of words is just effluent, from a scatological mind set, a digital dirty pixel protest. But it wasn’t always this way, some words changed nations.
Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín first came to my attention when he directed the excellent, if somewhat dark tale ‘The Club’ (2015), a bleak but very admirable story of a small house coastal retreat where the Catholic Church sent priests who had abused children or indeed anyone else. They were effectively protected, hidden away in comfort to preserve the overall image of the corporate religion. Despite it’s subject it’s absolutely worth seeking out (Flush gave it 8/10) and showed Pablo’s profound awareness of the echoing effects that the church had on his homeland and it’s people in it’s tumultuous history.
Another traumatic chapter was the reign of the notorious dictator Pinochet, who clearly wanted to torture an entire nation after he gained outright power in a coup d’état (1973) with the help of the United States. Pablo’s latest film ‘Neruda’ (2016) doesn’t deal directly with that bloody chapter, but it in a round about way lays the foundation for what is to come, namely the USA’s pathological fear of the ideology of Communism.
Set in 1948 Chile, the times are changing daily. The USA is flexing it’s might and characteristically instigating regime change in any country it sees fit, to serve it’s own purpose. Chile is a focal point and one of it’s main targets is Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco doing a fantastic job) a hugely respected poet (he went on to win a Nobel Prize) and characterful/charismatic politician who is truly loved by the masses. He also happens to be a member of the Communist Party, so the US isn’t really happy with this at all. His sublime use of words (the polar opposite of Trump) has the ability to seep down into the very core of every single person he meets or talks to, through his verse or the music of his timbre when reciting his pieces. It has the effect of a super hero power, and the US doesn’t want this weapon roaming free, they want it nutralised immediately.
Aimed with this task they send in Inspector Óscar Peluchonneau (Gael García Bernal also excellent) to track down (kill) the poet before he inspires a revolution that could put the Communists in power, and so commences an extraordinary visually lyrical journey/hunt through a hypnotic noir, high on the vapours of artistic nirvana, identity and the possibilities of words, paradise’s only true realm.
To facilitate that artist endeavour/quest Pablo has shrewdly renounced outright reality (which was hugely prevalent in ‘The Club’) and basically builds an intoxicating world that has the same effect of Neruda’s poems on his people. Despite what we know to be true, when these words flow, our vision is saturated with colour, lense flare and potentialities, rhythmic vapours of hope. It’s history via poetry, a modern day mini Iliad. There seems a disparity between what Neruda says in his poems and the champagne lifestyle he leads, but with some carefully chosen vernacular, he wafts any such realities/projections away. He is a man of the people, ALL people, from the richest to the poorest, the transvestite to the policeman, inherently believing in equality, but that doesn’t mean he’s not going to enjoy it all and everyone along the way, he doesn’t judge, he feels, he lives. Even his unfortunate wife seems to have come to terms with the reality of his desire to share himself with everyone, particularly women.
But he also seems at times drunk or addicted to his own words, they can warp his reality as much as the listeners. They also warp the Inspector’s too, and the two individuals seem far more alike that either might wish to say. They are generals of opposing armies, opposing ideologies, fuelling each other, both willing to die (or kill) for their beliefs, both believing they are right, addicted to each other and how they will be recited in history.
It’s an extraordinary tale, beautifully rendered with sumptuous cinematography that topographically evolves as the story flows by. I doubt very much the film can be used for historical accuracy in a school class, but in a way it actually makes it more realistic given how our memories work, we remember the feelings and emotions of moments, not the actual details. Emotions inspire and motivate us. There’s a luxurious dreamy drift to the story, the warm embrace of hope, just before the American nightmare is injected.
8/10 ‘Neruda’ is in UK cinemas 7th April.