Neruda and Inversion

Pablo Larrain had a busy 2016. Carbon Arc screened the Chilean director's first release of the year, The Club, in the spring. Later in the year his Kennedy-era drama Jackie opened to much praise for its star, Natalie Portman, who garnered an Oscar nomination. (Jackie opened on Halifax's Cineplex screens in early February.) Somewhere in there, Larrain found the time to complete Neruda, the charmingly wry story of the Chilean poet and statesman, Pablo Neruda, and the fictional policeman who pursued him across the country when the communist Neruda was declared persona non grata by the government.

 
Luis Gnecco stars as the title character in Neruda

Luis Gnecco stars as the title character in Neruda

 

Having seen these three films, I've been wowed by Larrain's confidence as a storyteller and how he adjusts the texture of his imagery to suit the tone: The Club was awash in blue, a gloomy, low-contrast look to suit its guilty characters, while Jackie is punctuated with moments quite like early-'60s newsreel. Neruda is drenched in sepia and lens flare, the camera prowling in circles around its cast. This is as far from a conventional biopic as I can imagine, a comedic examination of a moment in history that doubles as a consideration of stories, of protagonists, antagonists, and supporting characters. It's also a sly look at celebrity, how in 1948 the poet was a rock star who cast a glow upon everyone around him. Curiously, Neruda starts as a political thriller before becoming a chase drama and finally resolving as a western. It's a total delight, and the sold-out audience on Friday night seemed to concur.

- Carsten Knox


On Saturday, Carbon Arc had the privilege of partnering once again with the Phoenix Cultural Centre to program an Iranian film. Outside of international darling Asghar Farhadi it's rare for cultural exports from that country to make it to screens in Halifax; when we were approached to screen Me last season we couldn't pass up the opportunity. The selection this time around was Inversion, a drama from writer-director Behnam Behzadi that debuted in Un Certain Regard at Cannes. The story follows Niloofar, a business owner in Tehran whose mother is forced to leave the city when high levels of pollution leave her with a life-threatening respiratory disease. 

 
Sahar Dolatshahi as Niloofar and Ali Mosaffa as her brother Farhad in Inversion

Sahar Dolatshahi as Niloofar and Ali Mosaffa as her brother Farhad in Inversion

 

When Niloofar's siblings unilaterally decide that she will be the one to give up her career and take care of their mother, Behzadi's script traces an escalating family conflict that unfolds through dialogue dripping with tension and tinged with social issues. (In this sense, Behzadi and Farhadi are not just countrymen, but thematic bedfellows as well). Beyond the numerous scenes that take place inside a car — I wonder where all the pollution is coming from? — Tehran is rendered in a thick, grey haze. While Inversion is never so overtly political as to paint the views of Niloofar's family as outdated or regressive, it does slyly suggest that decades of accumulated cultural norms may be clouding their judgement. The pace flags a bit in places, notably in a stretch where Niloofar ignores near-constant phone calls from a male suitor, but strong performances and capable direction keep it afloat to deliver another enjoyable entry in the Iranian cinema oeuvre.

- Zack Miller