‘Neruda’ and ‘Jackie’ Prove Pablo Larraín is the Year’s Most Fearless Director: Awards Spotlight

After a year to remember, Larraín explains how his twin profiles of 20th century icons were influenced by Marty McFly.

Pablo Larraín

Daniel Bergeron

Biopics have become a curious corner of filmmaking in which A-list actors seek awards relevance by proving they can undergo physical transformation. And then there’s director Pablo Larraín, the Chilean virtuoso who shattered every possible biopic convention with “Neruda” and “Jackie.”

Both films use their subjects’ consciences to shape their narratives, embracing an experimental nature that helps his works feel as damaged and haunted as Jackie Kennedy or as unpredictable and surreal as Pablo Neruda. “Jackie” burrows into the mind of the former First Lady to deconstruct her public image, showing the effort to preserve the John F. Kennedy legacy even in the immediate moments after his assassination. “Neruda” lives and breathes as Pablo Neruda, with the entire film acting as a construction of the poet himself.

For Larraín, looking at these historical figures with a contemporary edge connected their stories on screen. And now the biopic genre will never be the same.

The subjects of his films lived on separate continents and were guided by different worldviews. But Larraín describes the process of finding that their day-to-day pursuits had some surprising spiritual overlap.

It’s easy for a biographical film to become didactic, to spell out lessons about the people they’re profiling. Larraín repeated his preference to avoid those easy boxes. Instead, he described how he felt that it’s vital to “use people’s imaginations and beliefs” to help guide them towards his films’ deeper meanings.

Looking back to a different era affords a filmmaker a chance to keep the past and present in conversation with each other. That these two films profiled political figures is no surprise for Larraín, whose work has always engaged with the history of his home country. But Larraín reinforced the idea that all films are inherently political acts.

As part of our Awards Spotlight series, we’ve asked a number of directors to share their favorite films, ones that helped them find their creative voice. How fitting that, at the close of a year where his two newest films deal with the passage of time and the abstract nature of human existence, Larraín would reference “Back to the Future” and the works of Andrei Tarkovsky, to name a few.

This year’s Awards Spotlight series is produced with help from our partners at Movies On Demand, who shot and produced the video interviews, and from Hollywood Proper, who provided location services for our Los Angeles shoots.

You can find all Contender Conversations at our Awards Spotlight homepage.

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