Anyone that knows me understands that I am not a very political person. My total lack of interest towards subject is the reason I find politics so confusing which is why I am weary of movies with a major political bent to them or are just straight up about politics. Due to the fact that Pablo Larrain’s “No” is set against the backdrop of Chile’s 1988 referendum campaign, I was not very excited for the film.
The film stars Gael Garcia Bernal as Rene Saavedra, an advertising executive who has been hired to come up with the “No” campaign in an attempt to defeat the dictator Augusto Pinochet from receiving another eight years in power. Pinochet had been in power for the previous fifteen years after a successful coup removed the previous leader. Pinochet has ruled Chile via martial law and although he has improved his country in some regards, he has done so with a lot of bloodshed and anyone that disagrees with his position ends up killed. With the world’s eyes on Chile, Pinochet was forced into a position where he had to appear he was giving his citizens a choice, therefore Pinochet’s braintrust came up with the idea for a referendum to decide whether or not Chile’s citizen wanted to live in a country ruled by a military dictatorship for another eight years, which was known as the “YES” vote, or whether they wanted democratic elections to be held, which was the “NO” option. Each option would get a total of fifteen uninterrupted minutes on air each day to promote their vote for a month until the day of the referendum. Pinochet and his people assumed the result was a given, and initially the majority of Chile’s citizen’s assumed that the result would be rigged and this was a show that was being put on for the rest of the world. However the story of “No” is about the advertising campaign for the “NO” vote and how it brought down the rule of a dictator in Chile.
This is such a good film and I was not expecting just how much I would like it. Despite what I have written above, the film has less to do with politics and more with how an advertising campaign is put together. It would be naïve to think that there is no politics in “No”, but thankfully this is not a propaganda piece, rather it is an entertaining look at an advertising agent and the difficulties he had to overcome in creating a campaign unlike anyone was expecting and to have the conviction of his work to believe that it was possible to create change.
What makes Rene’s campaign so special is that despite his nation being ruled by a dictatorship that has seen many murdered and disappeared, he didn’t base his campaign on fear, he wasn’t going around stating statistics of how many people had been murdered or abused because he knew that this would be too depressing and actually work against what they wanted to achieve. Instead he based his campaign on happiness which is what was coming if there was change. All of the advertisements he created for the campaign showed people having fun, barbeques, kids playing, stuff like that, rather than the usual depressing blood and guts. The campaign’s logo was a rainbow, and he even had a jingle made for the campaign, not an anthem, a jingle, something very catchy that people could learn easily. While initially the activists behind the “NO” vote were disgusted by what Rene had come up with, calling it disrespectful to those lost to the dictator, but once the comedic campaign started proving its power everyone got behind it, and I mean everyone, as history shows that this campaign played a large part in removing Pinochet from power.
Gael Garcia Bernal is fantastic as Rene and plays him as a real down to earth kind of guy. He is a father of a young boy and he loves his job at the advertising firm he works. He never wanted to change the world and even initially turned down the “NO” campaign, but when he finally excepted the job, he took it very seriously and never doubted once what he was doing. Bernal always plays Rene as confident but never cocky, he is also always wary because he knows that what he is doing could cost him his life. When the campaign picks up speed, Bernal starts portraying Rene as a very proud man and he almost becomes an unofficial leader, getting behind the rallies taking place at the time too.
Directorially, Pablo Larrain takes a massive chance with the look of “No” because he has shot it in the video look that replicates the look of the newscasts in the 1980’s. This is a seriously ugly film to look at because of this, with very blurry and contrasting images, but it actually works for the film. It makes it feel of its time, it feels exactly like the 1980’s but importantly by doing this, Larrain was able to use some of the actual advertisements used in the campaign within the film and they blend in seamlessly. For the same reason he is also able to use real news reports from the time which just adds to its authenticity. Larrain has done a great job of making “No” a really entertaining film and an enlightening film for those unfamiliar with the events of Chile in 1988 (like myself). It was very easy to understand everything that was going on and why, which is a problem I often have in political films.
It is the story itself that is so interesting and I thought the fact that when those associated with the “YES” vote realized that the “NO” campaign was more successful than they ever thought it would be, they became reactive and started copying the advertisements that the “NO” campaign had made but with a “YES” twist. Also military pressure was suddenly put on Rene and the other people involved with “NO” as they were constantly threatened and followed, and even their work was stolen. An episode near the end of the film when both parties are having their rallies, I thought was very telling, as while the “YES” rally was allowed to happen uninterrupted, the rally for the “NO” was broken up by a military presence during the middle of it. This miscalculation by Pinochet here was instrumental in losing his power I am assuming.
Overall, I loved the authenticity of “No” and was very surprised by its entertainment value. Gael Garcia Bernal gives a fantastic performance as Rene, very charismatic, in this well written and realistic film. It is true that it is an ugly film from a visual standpoint but the reason for this choice in style has paid off brilliantly for the film as a whole. Without sounding corny, I vote “YES” to “No”, this is a great film and you will not be disappointed.