I'm not sure whether it was a good idea by the Filmhouse to screen A Quiet Passion and Neruda so closely together - the potential audiences for the two films must be very similar and some people may have had to miss one of the films, which would be a shame as they're both worth seeing. Luckily I was able to see them both!
Yesterday, I saw A Quiet Passion, a biopic of Emily Dickinson. It is really a series of scenes from her life, rather than having a structured narrative to it. The viewer sees Emily's relationship with her parents and siblings, her close friend Vyrling and her struggles against both what she considers an overbearing church and a painful illness. I found it interesting to have these insights into the poet's life, and enjoyed the voice-overs of her poetry, but the style of the film was far too mannered for me and the witty dialogue, though entertaining didn't seem convincing. I also found that although her illnesses and social awkwardness should have made Dickinson a sympathetic (though difficult character) I just found her very unsympathetic.
Neruda (which I saw today) is a totally different film. Ostensibly based on Pablo Neruda's political difficulties (he was a communist politician in Chile as well as a significant poet) the film is very fictionalised, concentrating on an invented police officer almost as much as on Neruda himself. The story follows Neruda having to leave his home due to political difficulties and him being chased by said police officer. Thus ensues a game of cat and mouse which is absurd and entertaining. There is also, behind the story itself another, very clever, layer to the film that only becomes obvious as the film progresses. This film is dreamlike, with odd colour tones giving some scenes a feel of faded memories.
Neither film should be seen as honest, real life accounts of the lives of their subjects. But then neither of them claim to be straightforward biopics (in fact Neruda has been described as an anti-biopic) and they offer a degree of insight into the creative process of two influential poets.