Directed by Pablo Larrain
A harshly effervescent drama about a pivotal moment for political advertisements, this Chilean film takes place in the run-up to a 1988 referendum on the 15-year rule of military dictator Augusto Pinochet, a vote regarded from all corners as a charade. Director Larrain and screenwriter Pedro Peirano, adapting a play by Antonio Skarmeta, set us down amid heated talk of how best to fill an allotted amount of TV airtime—the “yes” and “no” options both having been granted 15 minutes nightly to make their case on national television.
Hotshot ad exec Rene Saavedra (Gael Garcia Bernal) hooks up with the opposition, arguing against the prevailing taste for archival-footage handwringing in favor of catchall good-times imagery. An oracle of youth appeal, he wants to sell the disillusioned populace on the idea that it’s safe—and even salutary!—to express dissent at the polls. Despite the evident disgust of some members of the resistance, Saavedra (himself the son of a prominent exile who nonetheless lacks the fanaticism of his estranged wife) soldiers forth with the de facto blooper reel, in which a blissed-out citizenry voices its dissatisfaction with the status quo by dancing, singing, and smiling.
Larrain (Tony Manero, Post Mortem) uses the campaign footage that actually aired on Chilean TV, and deftly restages its production, crafting a seamless whole by shooting every frame of the feature with a U-matic video camera hailing from 1983. As such, the film gradually takes on an equivalence to the ad campaigns documented therein, all of them essentially doctoring history to suit their purposes—something that’s also underscored by Larrain’s political-thriller plotting, which often feels deliberately schematic. (Saavedra’s sour senior colleague Lucho serves rather perfunctorily as the story’s villain, the architect of the “yes” campaign.)
The basic dramatic satisfactions make No an easier pill to swallow than its predecessors in Larrain’s life-under-Pinochet trilogy, but it’s scarcely less bitter. Only by beating “yes” at its own game—by co-opting the kind of forward-looking platitudes paraded forth by the General’s brain trust and then amplifying the sales pitch—is the opposition able to cut through the static.
Opens February 15