No -- A Stirring Political and Media Satire

                               Chile -- one of South America's stable and prosperous nation. But the nation was under dictatorship from 1973-88 under Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who seized control of the government in a bloody coup (with the help of CIA). In 1988, Pinochet decided to show his international legitimacy by holding a plebiscite election to decide whether he should continue as president. A fate of a nation and its dictator came down to a simple 'yes' or 'no.' 

                               Pablo Larrain's "No" (2012) is a political thriller that takes place during the 1988 referendum. This film is a semi-fictional account of the No campaign, from its origination through the election. Larrain's previous movies "Tony Manero" and "Postmortem" deals with various aspects of the Pinochet dictatorship. So, "No" makes up an unplanned trilogy on the Chilean dictatorship. Visually "No" looks like a feature length hand-held home movie. To lend a authentic look to the era and its events, Larrain has used video cameras from the 1980s.

                            Pinochet has agreed to a election. He has also concorded to give the opposition parties 15 minutes of time every night on state-run television to make its case for the dictator to step down. But there was widespread suspicion by people that the election would be rigged. We get to know this historical setup in a few smartly designed title cards and the movie introduces us to René Saavedra (Gael Garcia Bernal), a slick advertising man. He was also the son of a Chilean heretical long exiled in Mexico.When we first see him, Rene is pitching a campaign for a cola called Free. 

                          Soon, he is asked for his expertise by a representative for the 17 assorted opposition parties. He agrees to act as a consultant on their "No" TV spots. Rene decides to streamline their dissent into a powerful message that would crack the dictatorship. Rene's divorced wife Veronica (Antonia Zegers),  a  leftist radical, expresses her doubts about the validity of the election. She has abandoned Rene and their son and has zero faith that this campaign would make a difference against as ruthless an opponent as Pinochet. What then happens is a darkly hilarious volley of escalating grandiosity from both sides. Rene also faces number of obstacles along the way. The most perturbing aspect is that the head of Rene’s ad agency boss, Lucho Guzman (Alfredo Castro), supports the Pinochet regime and works as the head of "Yes" campaign.

                        Gael Garcia Bernal looks like the perfect choice for the role of Rene Saavedra. He has always been a strong presence in Spanish-language films, even though he all-but disappears in his American films. In "No", his magnetic eyes looks innocent and confused, while exuding a soft-spoken, mysterious charisma. Director Larrain and Cinematographer Sergio Armstrong has rebuilt a U-matic (analog recording videocassette) to give a distinct visual style of the 80s. The visuals  blurs the line between the fiction and the clips from the real No campaign woven throughout. 

                        Larrain skills as director makes "No", a effective political thriller (like Costa-Gavras’ “Z") as well as an uplifting message feature, with a lesson of how democratic and mobilization of common people can play a major role in campaigns to unseat dictatorial and authoritarian regimes. Larrain shows the life under a repressive military dictatorship and also the alternative future with a healthy cynicism. The rainbow logo, the insipid images of future bliss and the soft-drink-style advertising was just the hint of it.

                      What makes "No", alluring is the movie's sense of living in history that is mediated even as it's made. The film might not have said the whole truth, but the messages it delivers and its thoughts on the workings of democracy and the intricacies of personality, are both thought-provoking and entertaining. As we live in political charged times, we should watch "No" for its ideological as well as artistic merits. 


No -- IMDb 


Subhorup Dasgupta said...

Lots of interesting information from the post itself. I have seen Z and I have seen a much older film on Chile called Night Over Chile. This one seems to be a genre by itself. Must look out for it.

Arun Kumar said...

@Subhorup, Thanks for the comment. Yeah, this is a genre by itself, which doesn't follow much of the rules of political thriller genre. Will be looking out for your opinion on this movie.

Haricharan Pudipeddi said...

Looks interesting. I guess I should check it out soon. Good review