Directed by Pablo Larraín, No (2012) tells of a tumultuous time in Chile’s history where, after intentional political pressure, its leader the dictator Augusto Pinochet called for a national referendum, so that citizens could decide whether he should stay in power for another eight years. Chileans were encouraged to vote either “YES”, for the dictator to stay in power, or “NO”, to oust him and begin a new era of democracy. The film follows advertising executive René Saavedra (Gael Garcia Bernal) as he directs an ad campaign to be aired on national television to convince the people of Chile to vote “NO” in the referendum, and as he, his fellow ad men, and his family, face increasing pressure from the opposite side of the political spectrum.
Gael Garcia Bernal helms this film as the fictional advertising executive René Saavedra with a significant amount of serious passion. He’s always been a quietly fierce actor and this is no exception. His portrayal of Saavedra is a subdued one, as Saavedra is less politically inclined than his peers – but his passion lies in the creation and execution of an effective ad campaign, and in the protection of his family as they are increasingly threatened. Antonia Zegers also shines as his estranged and extremely politically active wife, and also of note is young Pascal Montero, who plays Saavedra’s son.
The first thing that you’ll notice about this film is that visually it looks like it’s been filmed on VHS tapes straight out of the year in which it’s set, which is 1988. Director Pablo Larraín used low definition ¾ inch Sony U-matic magnetic tape when filming, commonly used during that time in Chile during for television broadcasts. The film is also presented in 4:3 ratio, resulting in an authentic and immersive quality. It’s an interesting artistic choice as well, because at times the story of the advertising team and the ads that they’re shooting will blend into one, and then will blend with existing archival footage. At times it’s difficult to tell the reality from the advertising, and the two from the history that surrounds them, giving the whole film a layered feel. Larraín also uses a lot of old documentary footage to show Pinochet at work and the political marches and protests that occurred. It really feels like the film has been dug out of a time capsule. The camera work is gritty and unflinching, and the production design is authentically 80s, especially when it comes to the cheesy ads and jingles. All in all, the film is an absolute creative success.
No has received some criticism for oversimplifying the political landscape of the referendum, and for cutting out major movements that were also key to the success of the “NO” campaign. It is true that the people of Chile did not prevail over Pinochet simply due to the television campaign, nor could they have. But what this film shows is just one element of a large scale political movement that fought for the underdogs at the time, in order to protect its people from further political oppression and violations of their human rights. At times, if you know the history of Chile and what exactly happened after these campaigns, the film can suffer from a lack of tension, even as the stakes are raised for Saavedra and company. But the film is so quietly powerful in all other aspects that it’s never boring.
No is a great film to watch if you’re interested in advertising or marketing, as there’s lots of analysis to be had in terms of the television adverts that are created for both campaigns. It may also interest viewers who have an abiding interest in political extremism and how people have the power to overthrow governments that treat them badly. No is a politically and historically significant film and, while it lacks tension at times, it is ultimately a celebration of a country’s triumph over a truly destructive dictatorial regime that treated its people with cruelty. It is a truly interesting insight into one aspect of the events of the 1988 referendum in Chile, and showcases the power that hope and optimism can have in mobilising necessary political change.
Watch the trailer here.
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