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Film review: No

Yvonne Teh

 

NO
Starring: Gael García Bernal, Alfred Castro, Luis Gnecco
Director: Pablo Larraín
Category: IIB (Spanish)

 

Cinematic dramatisations of real-life events abounded at the Oscars this year – Ben Affleck’s Iranian hostage drama, Argo, took the best picture prize in a field that also included Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, which chronicled the CIA’s hunt for Osama Bin Laden, and Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, about the 16th American president and his allies’ efforts to pass a constitutional amendment to formally outlaw slavery.

Chile’s nominee in the best foreign language film category was Pablo Larraín’s No – a drama-thriller set in 1988, the year that military dictator Augusto Pinochet (who took power through a coup d’etat in 1973) bowed to international pressure and held a national referendum to determine whether he would extend his rule for another eight years.

No chronicles how a savvy advertising executive came up with a novel plan to successfully sell the opposition camp’s “No” campaign through the medium of television, after being approached by José Tomás Urrutia (Luis Gnecco), a socialist politician friend of his family.

The father of pre-teen Simon (Pascal Montero), René Saavedra (Gael García Bernal) is a playful character and that comes across in his work, which involves creating promotions for everything from soap operas to soft drinks, and the more serious task of convincing a fearful populace to vote against the general who has ruled the country with an iron fist for 15 years.

In one development that would be funny, if not for the substantial risk to his family, René finds himself on the opposite side of the political fence from his work boss, Lucho Guzman (Alfred Castro), who’s advising the “Yes” campaign. While this arrangement strains René and Lucho’s relationship, the approach the younger ad man advocates threatens to divide the opposition coalition of 17 different political parties that has united for the “No” campaign.

Some of the serious politicos want to use the campaign’s 15 minutes of daily television time to give voice to the victims of Pinochet’s repressive rule.

But René insists “we need to send people a happy message”, employs images of rainbows, and even commissions a jingle to help people buy into the idea of there being a better tomorrow if Pinochet was out.

The film is shot on U-matic video cameras, like many 1980s-era news programmes, and presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio, which gives a visual contrast to the widescreens cinemagoers are familiar with. As a result, No has a grainy, old news footage feel to it, which visually emphasises that it’s a film about events that did really take place. But considering its subject matter, its tone is lighter than expected – much like the political ads proposed by its protagonist.

The result is a creative effort that is both interesting and entertaining. To be sure, some might accuse Larraín’s film of being more frivolous and less substantive than it could be. On the other hand, No may have broader appeal as a consequence … and thus get many more people saying “Yes” to viewing it.

 

No opens on May 2

 

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