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Filmmaker Toolkit Podcast: Pablo Larraín On Catching Ghosts to Make His ‘Neruda’ and ‘Jackie’ (Episode 17)

How the Chilean director breathed life into awards season by avoiding the narrative traps of making a biopic.

Natalie Portman & Pablo Larrain

Natalie Portman and Director Pablo Larrain on the set of “Jackie”

Photo by William Gray. © 2016 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

December has been a big month for director Pablo Larraín, who has not just one, but two award season films currently in theaters. What’s interesting is that both films are about 20th century icons, Jackie Kennedy and Pablo Neruda, yet they couldn’t be more different. So much so, that after seeing both you might not recognize they were made by the same director.

When Larraín was on the IndieWire’s Filmmaker Toolkit podcast, he explained the connective tissue between both projects was the way the two icons attempted to control their legacy.

READ MORE: Filmmaker Toolkit Podcast: ‘OJ: Made in America’ Director Ezra Edelman on Making an Eight Hour Oscar Contender (Episode 11)

“What I think is interesting is [in] both cases they tried…to shape what people might be thinking about them and that’s not possible,” said Larraín. “So there’s a gap, a black space, where things go in an [undetermined] direction and that’s where you get in. That’s the door.”

By exploring that gap, Larraín avoided the narrative structure that plagues most biopics. Instead of a film that forces a cause-and-effect relationship between public figures’ personal lives and the events for which they are remembered, he dived into the inherent friction that exists between the two.

Director Pablo Larrain on the set of "Jackie."

Director Pablo Larrain on the set of “Jackie.”

Photo by Stephanie Branchu. © 2016 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

“We could lay a whole movie over that idea, because it’s people who are basically trying to control the uncontrollable and when you do that there’s accidents,” said Larraín. “Those accidents are cinema.”

In both films, Larraín tasked himself with trying to capture aspects of Kennedy and Neruda that couldn’t be fully realized.

“[‘Neruda’] is a very expansive film and I tell you, man, there’s something very dangerous in all this, in trying to bring poetry to a film,” said Larraín. “It’s so dangerous because it can go into a very complicated place.”

READ MORE: Filmmaker Toolkit Podcast – Paul Verhoeven Refuses to Let Himself Be Censored By Critics (Episode 12)

With Kennedy, Larraín dissected what it meant to be “one of the most known women of the 20th century,” but someone for whom the public actually knows very little.

“That mystery is very captivating because you are trying to grab a ghost and you’ll never get it,” said Larraín. “There is something in our job that you are trying to capture something that you know you won’t be able to capture, but just the exercise of trying to do it is probably good enough to make a movie.”

Larraín has been making feature films for years in Chile, but with three releases in 2016 (“The Club” came out this spring) American audiences are just discovering this exciting director. To help put his work in perspective, IndieWire’s Film Editor Kate Erbland also joins the week’s podcast to explain why “Jackie” was her favorite film of 2016 and Larraín is likely a director we’ll be talking about for awhile.


The Filmmaker Toolkit podcast is available on iTunes, StitcherSoundCloud and Google Play MusicPrevious episodes include:

The music used in this podcast is from the “Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present” score, courtesy of composer Nathan Halpern.

You can check out the rest IndieWire’s podcasts in iTunes.

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