Fox Searchlight’s decision to place the Natalie Portman starrer Jackie in the Oscar race with a December 9 release date creates a rare situation. The Orchard long ago dated another Toronto title, Neruda, for December 16, and the picture was just announced by Chile as its selection for Best Foreign Language Film. Both films are directed by Pablo Larrain. That means that Larrain has two films vying for Oscar love, released one week apart from each other. Add to that the fact that the Larrain-directed El Club was released earlier this year, and it might get Larrain a call from the Guinness Book of World Records people for most films released in a calendar year. Confusion is inevitable.
It’s difficult to come up with a year in which a director has had a movie in the Best Picture hunt and another in the Foreign Language race. (Ang Lee had Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in both Oscar categories in 2001, winning the Foreign Oscar, but that was one movie, not two. But it sure doesn’t mean there isn’t room for both. It is also an opportunity for a real breakthrough for their director. That is the hope of Paul Davidson, Orchard’s exec veep of film and TV who is in Toronto for acquisitions and to unveil Neruda after it made a splashy debut in Telluride with another coming at the New York Film Festival.
“We knew that these two movies might come out in the same year, and around the same time, and for us we think it’s a positive result,” he said. “What it communicates to the community is that Pablo Larrain is a fantastic filmmaker having a banner year. Both films represent an artistic vision that is unique to him. We’re excited and feel both films are different enough that all boats will rise in the tide here.”
Neruda stars Luis Gnecco as Neruda, the poet-turned-politician who went underground, and Gael Garcia Bernal plays the cop assigned to hunt the communist influencer down. It becomes a Catch Me If You Can or Les Miserables game of cat and mouse. There is connective tissue, in that Jackie shows another historical icon, Jackie Kennedy, in the days following the devastating assassination of her husband. In her grief, she tries to cement his place in history.
Said Davidson: “You look at Jackie as this American icon, and Neruda as an iconic figure in Chile’s history, and what Pablo has done is approached both of their stories in a unique structurally creative way. People expect a certain structure from an historical biopic, and what is clear with both of these, Pablo doesn’t approach these in a traditional way. The artistry of his talent comes through. You hear a biopic is coming on Neruda and you expect a paint-by-numbers execution and expectation on how standard that can be. Neruda was a well-known poet, and a politician and a communist, and there came a point in history where he was forced to go underground. That’s the catalyst. Pablo makes it the foundation but lets his imagination run to expand on this germ of fact to create the cat-and-mouse chase between Neruda and the police officer trying to catch him. No one can say, with respect to both those movies, that he hasn’t produced an end product that is counter-intuitive to what traditional media would have expected.”