Review: Neruda (2016)

Proclaimed by its director an “anti-bio”¹, Neruda presents a semi-fictional account of poet Pablo Neruda’s flight from the Chilean authorities after an arrest for his communist ideas and ideology. Not only does Neruda follow the poet’s hiding and running, but it also focuses on Don Pablo’s opponent, Oscar Peluchonneau, the inspector hunting the poet down. Neruda turns into a brilliant rant against narrative clichés and a nostalgic hommage to classic cinema.


Biopics often present a problem of narrative. A recent example of a biographical film falling for common mistakes of the genre (if I may call it that) is Trumbo (2015). Jay Roach’s cinematic account of the communist screenwriter Dalton Trumbo’s life shows thematic similarities with Neruda, but in terms of cinema they unmistakably differ. Trumbo has many great qualities – acting, cinematography, costumes and background are all better than decent – and these make the film’s demise all the more painful. Biopics often suffer from a misplaced collage-ness; a crumbling narrative. Life is not a narrative, and often when a biopic is intended to imitate real life as much as possible, the film suffers from this rather obvious fact. The intentionally ‘true’ story is seldom capable to correspond with the film’s narrative value as well as real-life length, and so the story becomes fragmented and ultimately unsatisfactory.

But not this time, director Pablo Larraín (NoEl Club) must have thought. As he now gladly explains, he and writer Guillermo Calderón (El Club) were well aware of the inherent traps of paradox that biographical films lay out, and decided not only to introduce fiction into Pablo Neruda’s story, but to make the film as filmy as film gets. I mean, Neruda seems to be cinema at its healthiest; it’s full of references to classic cinema, it’s cross-genre, humorous, exciting, self-reflexive, aesthetically pleasing and most of all: it presents us with a well rounded narrative.



With the fictionalization of such an important figure as Pablo Neruda comes great responsibility. Instead of apologizing to the audience or warning the people that they will not be shown actual events, Neruda‘s makers produce a story that is about storytelling and the human tendency to introduce narrative into real life. Thereby Neruda reflects on its own non-fictional connotations and fictional nature. In the cat and mouse game that inspector Peluchonneau and Pablo Neruda play, they fight for their narrative role rather than for their lives, they fight for fame, for legendary status and for agency in their own story. When Delia del Carril, Neruda’s loving partner, speaks to the inspector and tells him that he is only an invention in the story of Neruda’s escape story, a supporting character to the heroic Don Pablo, inspector Peluchonneau stops hunting Neruda and starts seeking his own heroic personage in the hunt. Both characters are romantic figures, and they become intertwined in an egocentric struggle for power over the narrative.

This complex manhunt plays out as comedy, drama, classic noir and modern western, and shifts between these genres so fluently that the film still maintains its unity. All this is given the atmosphere of classic 60’s and 70’s cinema through obsolete cinematographic qualities, while some absurd editing techniques give Neruda an unprecedented subtle surreal character. Along with genius performances by leading cast members Gael García Bernal and Luis Gnecco and an wonderfully exciting plot, Neruda is one of the best and most interesting films to come out in 2016.


Even more
(4/5) Benjamin Lee for The Guardian: “Neruda takes a lot of wild chances and, like the poet whose life acts as inspiration, it’s unwilling to play by the rules. Dizzily constructed and full of more life and meaning than most “real” biopics, it’s a risk worth taking.”

(B+) Eric Kohn for Indiewire: “At first, Neruda reeks of artificiality that lends the distracting air of a tired melodrama. But that’s all part of the plan for Larrain, who gradually transforms the story into a self-aware gamble.”


¹ Dargis, Manohla. “Why the Movie ‘Neruda’ Is an ‘Anti-Bio’“. The New York Times. May 18, 2016.


Review: P’tit Quinquin (2014)



Bruno Dumont’s P’tit Quinquin is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It denounces anything that is in line with your expectations and still has the ability to satisfy like no other. P’tit Quinquin disguises itself as a proper narrative, but simultaneously bravely fights its medium. Well, I say ‘fights’, but rather: it attacks, because narrative hardly seems to fight back.

P’tit Quinquin is a miniseries, which is another way of saying that it is a film that will test your patience and butt muscles. The miniseries lasts 206 minutes, and, honestly, nothing really happens.

Its story revolves around a small French coastal town, where small bits of human corpses are found in dead cows. Commandant Van der Weyden (Bernard Pruvost) and Lieutenant Carpentier (Philippe Jore) are the detectives that are put on the case, and the two do an extraordinary job of failing horribly. Van der Weyden, with a tic that is noticeable every second of his appearances in the movie, strolls around the town, briefly questioning its mostly rather strange inhabitants, often in a manner for which Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks was most likely the inspiration. Carpentier, his humble sidekick, follows him around while voicing pseudo-philosophical claims about the nature of evil, often borrowed from the French writer Zola (although I could never finish Nana and must trust Carpentier on this). Furthermore, Carpentier has a passion for driving their car rather recklessly, and his dream is to get it on two wheels.

Apart from these two detectives, both quite unfit for the job they’re doing, one more character takes a large role in this grand anti-narrative: little Quinquin himself. Quinquin is a young farmer’s boy, who, accompanied by his two friends and his self-proclaimed amour, follows the strange events in town and faces the town’s mysteries and ethnic minorities.



P’tit Quinquin is a challenge to watch, not only because of its length and lack of significant events, but also because some themes that sometimes reach the story’s surface are quite painful. The film gives its audience hints of necrophilia and bestiality, and explicitly shows heavy racism. But P’tit Quinquin shows these controversial themes so easily and renders them so empty, that the entire film seems indifferent about the atrocities it brings to light. P’tit Quinquin takes on a lumpen attitude, and it finally dwindles into an atmosphere of frightening nihilism, settled onto a layer of simple comedy of everyday life.

Yes, it’s all pretty awful, but simultaneously P’tit Quinquin is very entertaining, very humorous and very refreshing. In the end, its nihilism transforms into comedic scepticism, and from the start the miniseries warns its viewers through absurdity and ridiculousness to not rely on anything the film claims. P’tit Quinquin holds no beliefs and no morals, it revolves around nothing. so any horrifying themes it exhibits present nothing in themselves. The absence of meaning is actually what makes the film hilarious. The balance between disgusting and laughable content is perfect, and the 206 minutes are all entertaining and enthralling.

The absurdity of P’tit Quinquin is only increased by the unnatural acting of the entire cast. Bruno Dumont is known to recruit inexperienced actors for his films, and in P’tit Quinquin this becomes as obvious as can be as some actors stare dispassionately to the horizon when reading their lines. As Dumont claims in an interview with The Guardian: “[…] I like putting very ordinary people in the spotlight. Walk down any street, you’ll see plenty of people who are pretty singular looking”. The cast, indeed, often resembles ordinary people, and most of us, though in shame, even laugh at the guise of some of these actors. However, Dumont’s style demands the use of non-professionals; it fits perfectly.

P’tit Quinquin is a pile of tasty, absurd and hilarious scenes and its unconventional presentation is as refreshing as it is weird, and it is very weird. It’s one of the best ways to spend your spare three and a half hours.


Even more

366 Weird Movies: “Bruno Dumont’s sprawling (206 minute) longform Gallic mystery is quirky and ominous in about equal measure, with an ambiguous non-conclusion that adds to the weirdness while also making the entire enterprise feel strangely incomplete”.

Roger Ebert: “Pruvost looks like Albert Einstein and has a facial tic that causes his face to move involuntarily in very noticable ways, meaning he delivers something like four reactions for every stimuli and sometimes more”.

The Hollywood Reporter: “[…] by contrasting what the investigators are trying to uncover with the youthful adventures of the children, Dumont seems to suggest that the world of adults, despite appearances, is so rotten that it can only be stomached and perhaps even saved by two things: laughter of the tragicomic kind and a child-like innocence that somehow needs to be maintained into adulthood”.