Pablo Larraín-text för Stockholm Film Festivals festivalkatalog.


Pablo Larraín is the 2017 recipient of the Stockholm Visionary Award. His latest film »Neruda« is a visually stunning and intelligently narrated biopic of the politically active poet Pablo Neruda during his exile in Argentina in 1948.


The Chilean director Pablo Larraín was born in 1976 in Santiago to a mother belonging to one of the wealthiest families in Chile, and a father who served as the president of a rightwing party supporting the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Perhaps it’s no wonder that he has dedicated most of his filmmaking career to telling stories about a country that has suffered from oppression and both moral and cultural decline for two decades.

Larraín’s directorial style is one of austere technique, relying predominantly on carefully elaborated and static images. These images are intrusive and penetrate the audience on a both a metaphysical and tactile plane. Although his characters sometimes seem like ghosts in a detached world, Larraín’s direction is full of nerve and presence.

After his lovingly bizarre 2006 debut »Fuga«, about the insanity of the composer Montalbán, Pablo Larraín has carved his name into the world of arthouse cinema with his dictatorship trilogy, consisting of »Tony Manero« (2008), »Post Mortem« (2010), and his major breakthrough film, »No« (2012). A mentally disturbed but aspiring John Travolta-impersonator, a morgue attendant during the 1973 military coup, and a politically engaged advertiser in the final stages of the Pinochet regime are the three male backdrops for the brilliantly scary trilogy.


Grounded in historical circumstances, the films are also agonizing allegories steeped in bleak cruelty, insanity and calm hopelessness combined with considerable amounts of black comedy. Upon first viewing »Tony Manero« and »Post Mortem«, I couldn’t remember the last time I saw such lonely people silently crying out for personal context. At the same time it was utterly moving. The most tragic thing, however, is that all three characters seem to be walking around with mental blindfolds. Whatever happens around them, they just keep living in a bubble and believe that they can cope with the political and social injustices around them, that it doesn’t affect them, and that their everyday lives can continue without stain. The consequences of their naivety ultimately lead to disaster.

According to Larraín himself, every film in the trilogy came to him by chance – through a photograph of a skinny, fifty-year-old man, an autopsy report, and a play. The basic idea, however, was to find out what happened in his own corrupt country and explore how things reached that critical point. It seems the trilogy helped Larraín process these things before he moved on to the next chapter of his career.

el club.jpg

Larraín’s partly Catholic upbringing hovers like an evil ghost over the his next movie, »The Club«. It tells the story of four priests who have been relocated to a house in a grey coastal town to purge the sins of their pasts. The framing of the movie is creepy and foggy, and it is quickly cemented that this is no simple retreat for the priests, but rather a small secular city where the only focus should be repentance. Larraín makes his own pitch-black version of an issue that has been explored by several documentaries in recent years, namely the Catholic priests who have abused children and exposed them to sexual harassment. The club appears as a kind of microcosm that symbolizes the corrupt power of the Vatican as well as other forms of dictatorships. When an additional priest arrives to interview the group, the conversations reveal terrible crimes. The overall result is that the whole city’s peaceful life is transformed into chaos.


In both of his latest films, Larraín tackles the biopic in a distinct and imaginative way. »Jackie« is possibly one of the saddest movies about a public person that has ever been made, and therefore, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful. Natalie Portman’s voice and body language resembles Jackie Kennedy in an almost uncanny manner while the whole film bathes in the melancholy and sad light that has become one of the director’s great hallmarks. Larraín paints a bold and penetrating portrait of a person in sorrow, and the film earned three Oscar nominations.

Although different in tone, »Neruda« presents a similarly idiosyncratic take on its subject. The film is a sophisticated cat and mouse game between a police officer and the poet and can be described as a fascinating mix of film noir and melodrama. It takes place at the time of Neruda’s political exile in Argentina and intriguingly explores the relationship between art and politics. The author was a senator for the Communist Party, praised Lenin, wrote caustic poems against the Radical Party and would later go on and earn the Nobel Prize. »Neruda« is a more loose and free-flowing film than Larrain’s earlier work, and it becomes a touching display of a principally idealistic and romantic genius. The dialogue is intelligently smooth, and the sun-drenched cinematography has the warmth of spring.


Continuing his exploration of real-life political icons, Larraín’s forthcoming adaptation of ”The True American” with Tom Hardy is also about a real human being and his destiny. The film depicts the Muslim Rais Bhuiyan who was subjected to a murder attempt just after 9/11. Although Bhuiyan is in no way as iconic as Kennedy or Neruda, he remains a person exposed to a significant political deed.

As a part of the recent boom of Latin American films, Pablo Larraín is, together with directors such as Raúl Ruiz, Patricio Guzmán and Sebastián Lelio, one of the main forces behind the Chilean film industry’s rise to prominence. In Chile, there is a thrilling cinematic creativity that probably has much to do with striving to understand the country’s violent history in which a lot of today’s young directors grew up. Prestigious prizes at Cannes, Berlin, Venice and Toronto have paved the way and will likely keep Larraín’s bright star shining for a long time to come.


Since he started his own production company, Fabula, together with his brother Juan de Dios, Larraín has made seven feature films in eleven years with an impressive consistency in quality. By telling honest stories from a harrowing and dark period, he appeals to several generations, both those who underwent hell and those who want to get an insight into how relentlessly vile their history could be. For example, the concepts, the jingles, the commercials and the slogans are completely authentic in »No«, anchoring the film firmly in the time of its setting. It’s the intelligent mix of glorious detachment, reminiscent of the late Stanley Kubrick’s piercing gaze, and an overwhelming pathos that makes Larraín’s visionary artistry so unique.


Fredrik Söderlund


4 Responses to “Pablo Larraín-text för Stockholm Film Festivals festivalkatalog.”

  1. Hello
    I like your article about Pablo Larrain’s work. May I reblog it on my website, please?

  2. Reblogga detta på Cinema World och kommenterade:
    Kubrickian111, a freelancer from Malmö, shares with us his article about Pablo Larraín’s work and background. Thank you!


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