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Mexican actor Gael García Bernal stars in “Neruda,” not as the celebrated poet and politician Pablo Neruda, for which the film is named, but as a police office on a manhunt for Neruda after the government of Chile outlaws communism in 1948 and the poet goes into hiding. (Luis Gnecco plays Neruda.)

On the red carpet for “Neruda” at the New York Film Festival Wednesday evening, I asked Bernal to describe the film and why he thinks American audiences, especially those unfamiliar with Neruda’s history or poetry, would find it interesting.

Gael Garcia Nernal, Neruda, New York Film Festival
Gael Garcia Bernal and Director Pablo Larrain at the NYFF Neruda Premiere | Paula Schwartz Photo

“Because it is a very surprising movie,” he said. “It’s very difficult to anticipate. This is for curious film lovers. Whoever goes to the cinema and doesn’t know what to expect, this is their kind of film because it’s about the poet Pablo Neruda but it’s more than that. It’s about the delirious idea, fantastical and quite inspiring, as well as the idea of living many lives within one’s life.”

Director Pablo Larraín, who is suddenly hot with another of his films, “Jackie,” which is getting Oscar buzz for Natalie Portman, told me on the red carpet that neither of the films are biopics.

Gael Garcia Nernal, Neruda, New York Film Festival, Pablo Larrain
Director Pablo Larrain at the NYFF Neruda Premiere | Paula Schwartz Photo

“This movie is not really about Neruda. It’s more about the Nerudian world, about what he created, his imaginary world and space,” the Chilean director told me. “I guess he was able to define who we are through poetry, and that’s very hard to do.”

“Neruda was someone who mixed politics and poetry and also someone who was able to describe a whole idiosyncrasy through poetry. Also, he wrote one of the most fabulous love poems, that I guess all over the world has been used by people trying to conquer a girl or a guy.”

He added, “Neruda was also someone who wrote a lot of poems of rage and fury back in those days in politics. But mainly someone who not just created an incredible body of work, and also someone who led an incredible life and that’s what we’re trying to dig into.“

Gael Garcia Nernal, Neruda, New York Film Festival
Gael Garcia Bernal at the NYFF Neruda Premiere | Paula Schwartz Photo

I asked the director how well he thought the worlds of poetry and film intersect? “It’s hard to mix poetry and cinema,” said Larraín. “Cinema should be poetry, at least some cinema is trying to do that. So when you bring a poet’s life into being it’s always delicate. I just intended to have his work and his sort of life and heart in people’s bloodstream. Let’s see if that happens. I don’t know. It’s just an approach to cinema to bring to the screen two weeks of his life, especially in this period because he was escaping from justice for two years. It’s a mix of noir cinema with cat-and-mouse, road movie, black comedy.”

Gael Garcia Nernal, Neruda, New York Film Festival
Gael Garcia Bernal at the NYFF Neruda Premiere | Paula Schwartz Photo

As for “Jackie,” which will have a special screening October 13 at the New York Film Festival, I asked about the challenges of bringing such an iconic and charismatic figure to life.

“When you approach someone like that, you’ve got to do it from the space of cinema. We’re not journalists,, researchers or anything like that,” he said “It’s an arbitrary approach from cinema of a woman who was able to put a country together and protect her husband’s legacy while she was going through a very dark and illuminated process.”

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