No: Powerful Chilean Political Drama
Alfredo CastroGael García Bernal...
Don’t ever underestimate the power of media.
That’s the message that No – the latest film from the Chilean director and writer Pablo Larrain – proudly announces in a story about a gutsy advertising executive who played a key role in the downfall of General Augusto Pinochet’s fifteen-year dictatorship of Chile.
Set in Santiago in 1988, No opens with a small introduction of the country’s political history; after the 1973 coup d’état which overthrew the civilian government led by Salvador Allende, General Augusto Pinochet assumed power. After fifteen years in office – a period of time filled with corruption and endless transgressions of human rights– the Chilean public is presented with a referendum that will decide whether Pinochet will stay in power for another eight years (vote ‘yes’) or open democratic elections (vote ‘no’).
The ‘No’ campaign acquires the help of young and talented advertising executive, Rene Saavedra (Bernal). Saavedra very quickly condemns the campaign’s existing line of approach, calling it ‘gloomy’ and ‘depressing’, and proposes a ‘happier’ tone.
While Saavedra and his team – which included assumed communist and mentor, Jose Tomas Urratia (Gnecco), and director, Fernando (Cantillana) – work on the task at hand, the Pinochet followers do everything in their power to sabotage them. Was the more ‘optimistic’ and ‘brighter’ approach really a threat to the ruling government? Did Santiago and friends really make a difference? You’ll be amazed.
No marks the third film in director Larrain’s career – following 2008’s Tony Manero and 2010’s Post Mortem – and is loosely based on an unpublished play written by Pedro Peirano. is a thought-provoking and emotionally rousing political piece and the story is sometimes moving and sometimes inspirational.
Larrain’s use of old 80s U-Matic format really adds to telling of the story; the sometimes fuzzy visuals – which might take some time to get used to – bring forth the aesthetics of the 80’s beautifully. The result is a perfect, as it makes it very difficult for audiences to tell the real-video footage of the campaign and the film footage apart.
The casting of Bernal is another smart move. The Mexican actor – who received fame with this portrayal of Che Guevara’s early days in The Motorcycle Diaries – carries the story superbly and his calmly powerful presence adds flavour to the story.
Powerful and provocative, No will indisputably strike a chord with many. It’s a seriously refined piece of cinema that never wavers from its freedom-seeking spirit.