Dir: Pablo Larraín
Stars: Gael García Bernal, Alfredo Castro, Luis Gnecco & Antonia Zegers
In 1973, General Augusto Pinochet assumed power in Chile in a coup d’état which saw the overthrow of the Government of Salvador Allende. After coming under increasing international pressure, the Chilean dictator called a referendum in 1988 to decide whether he should remain in power for another eight years. Pablo Larrain’s film follows the No campaign.
René (Garcia Bernal) is a young daring advertising executive recently returned to his homeland. He is employed by Lucko (Castro) at his advertising company and is his star employee; bringing new exciting ideas over from America. When he is headhunted by José Tomás Urrutia (Gnecco) to run the No campaign, the rather aloof René has to face up to what is happening in his country and his relationship with his estranged wife (Zegers), as well as the future for their son. He also has to deal with his boss who is firmly in the Yes camp.
Larrain took a bold step in filming this on videotape, and it really pays off. The story is crafted in the style of a fictional documentary, seamlessly inserting newsreel footage throughout the film. It takes a few minutes to get used to watching a film in the box format, but it is a testimony to the skill of the director that it really looks like it could have been made in the ‘80s (seeing Garcia Bernal on a skateboard and the microwave scenes are a kitsch wonder).
Given only 15 minutes of airtime each day on the State-controlled TV station, René eschews the obvious tactics of using images of torture and oppression in favour of employing the style of slick upbeat 80s advertising. This does not go down with his estranged wife Verónica who is a political activist who regularly puts her body on the line as her form of protest. The relationship between them, and with their son, alters as the film progresses; René realising what a victory for the No vote would mean for the whole of Chile.
It is clear to see why No has been nominated for the Best Film in a Foreign Language Oscar. You find yourself being sucked into the plot and empathising with Gael Garcia Bernal’s character; by the end establishing a strong emotional connection. It is another brilliant and mesmerising performance from him. You really should say yes to NO.
No is screening now at the Showroom. http://www.showroomworkstation.org.uk/no