Update April 24, 2021: At the beginning of 2017, Neruda and Jackie came out in quick succession , two biopics directed by Pablo Larrain. However, when we met him to discuss these two projects inspired by true stories, he said he did not know what a biopic was! We’re reposting this interesting interview on the occasion of the film’s first free-to-air airing about Jackie Kennedy, who stars as Natalie Portman, on Arte this weekend. Note that at the moment, Larrain is shooting a film on … Lady Di.
Interview of January 4, 2017: While the biopics season is in full swing (Dalida, Chet Baker, soon Django Reinhardt), Pablo Larrain sets the bar very high by releasing his Neruda “back to back” (kaleidocopic reflection on the genius of letters Chilean) then the highly anticipated Jackie with Natalie Portman (February 1), portrait of the widow Kennedy the day after JFK’s assassination in Dallas. Two “anti-biopics” , as he says, refusing the Wikipedia-style biographical unfolding the better to delve into the great story. Meeting with the rising star of South American cinema, spent in a few years from the parallel selections of the Cannes Film Festival in the anteroom of the Oscars.
First: You have just shot two biopics in quick succession. Was it planned?
Pablo Larrain: Oh no, you would have to be crazy to plan something like this! It really is a coincidence. I had gone to the Berlin Film Festival to present my film El Club and, on the evening of the awards ceremony, I met the President of the jury, Darren Aronofsky, who said to me: “When do we do it?” a movie together, you and me? I was of course up for it, but I thought it was just courtesies, socialites. Yet a week later he sent me Jackie’s screenplay . We saw each other again in New York, I explained to him that I had to shoot my film on Neruda first. “No worries, I’m waiting for you,” he told me. And this is how I made these two films in quick succession.
There are a lot of connections between the two, that would make a great double schedule…
Yes. I only saw a lot of these echoes afterwards …
These are two films about historical figures shaping their legend. Like a diptych on the birth of political storytelling …
Yes, two films about two 20th century icons. Neruda and Jackie have things in common: they were both involved in the Cold War, they were political opponents – one was a Communist, the other the wife of a President fighting against Communism – and, most importantly. , they both sought to build their own legend. However, when you write your own story, there is always a gap between the intention and the result, between the image you want to project and the one people receive. This ditch, this gap, it is the front door in which I can sneak and slip in subjectivity, fiction, curiosity, love, rage, desire, in short: of the cinema. Because I am not a historian, but a director. I made a movie called Neruda, another called Jackie , but I have no idea who these people were!
Does the fact that one of the movies is titled with the protagonist’s last name, and the other with their first name, suggest that the approach is different from movie to movie?
First, there are practical reasons. Pablo is a very common first name in Chile – it’s also mine for that matter – so the film is called Neruda . What if I called the other Kennedy, one would have thought it was a film about the clan, the family, whereas it is really a portrait of her. But that’s an interesting question, because they are both personalities who have changed their names. Neruda was actually called Ricardo Eliécer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto. He borrowed his name from an unknown Czech writer. And Jackie was Jacqueline Bouvier, who became Kennedy, then Onassis. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis wrote on his grave in Arlington. She was so many women! She was several characters at the same time. That’s why I can’t pretend these movies are biopics. These are very personal views of personalities. And then… they are also films on cinema.
That is to say ?
When we make a film today, we necessarily have the whole history of cinema in mind. When submitting Neruda to the Cannes Film Festival, they made us fill out a small form where you must indicate the technical details of the film: country, duration, format, etc. But we didn’t know what to put in the “genre” box. Neruda is simultaneously a film noir, a comedy, a road movie, an existential western… A cocktail of literature, politics and poetry. It’s really hard to define. The only real way to approach it is therefore through cinema. As for Jackie , it is first and foremost the portrait of a mother. A love story. That is to say the theme of about half of the films in the history of cinema.