Larraín narrows the scope of his subject's life to 1948, the year that Neruda, then a senator representing Chile's Communist party, was forced into hiding after President Gabriel González Videla (regular Larraín collaborator Alfredo Castro) outlawed communism and called for the writer-statesman's arrest. The historical record, however, is embellished by a wholly fabricated character: Oscar Peluchonneau (Gael García Bernal, the star of No), both an officious police officer tasked with ensnaring Neruda and the film's unreliable first-person narrator.
Referents and identities are always slightly unfixed in Neruda, a film that reaches dizzying, exhilarating velocity by flouting the conventions of its hidebound genre. Peluchonneau, we soon discover, is a character doubly imagined: not only by Larraín and screenwriter Guillermo Calderón but also by the Neruda that they have concocted.
A chronicle of a towering 20th-century author, a detective story and a metafiction, Neruda consistently calls attention to its own artificiality; the rear projection in scenes of Peluchonneau driving in pursuit of his quarry gives Larraín's project a Hitchcockian aura. Neruda forgoes slavish re-creation -- the kind of mimesis that sinks Larraín's recently released, baffling biohazard Jackie -- for a more audacious consideration of language, literature and iconicity.