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Neruda (dir. Pablo Larrain, The Club, Jackie) stars Gael Garcia Bernal (Y Tu Mama Tambien, Amores Perros) as a Chilean detective tasked with tracking down poet and politician Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco, Narcos, the boss in the Chilean version of The Office, La Ofis), whose membership in the Communist party leads him into being a fugitive within his own country in the late 194os.

Familiarity with the poet’s life or history of Chile is not required to fully enjoy Neruda, which builds its characters with subtlety. More than a pastiche, the copious rear-projection car shots remind the audience constantly that they’re watching a movie. Rooms are filled with thick smoke, lens flares shimmer in daytime scenes, and the performances by Garcia Bernal and Gnecco are superb.

Rather than being merely a historical drama about a poet, Neruda is a poetic drama about history. History, in Neruda, is not so much about a clear progression of events than the emotional charge of people. Focusing tightly on the detective and the poet, Larrain has directed a solid and surprising film which disarms and captivates in its first half with a mix of ethos and sinister comedy. In the back half of the story, a change in tone marks the point where it abandons narrative for pure emotional landscapes. Neruda shares more with Synecdoche, New York and the metanarratives of films by Charlie Kaufman than its “cop-chases-communist poet” premise suggests.

Neruda is as much about film, narrative and poetry as it is about Neruda, the poet. It is a wholeheartedly unique and engaging film, twisting threads of historical drama and dark comedy in a smart, sharp and self-reflexive film which will continue to provoke new connections long after leaving the theatre.