Returning to examine the Pinochet regime once more, director Pablo Larraín (TONY MANERO, POST MORTEM) brings audiences the unlikely yet true story of how Pinochet’s regime came to end.
In 1988 the whole world watched with interest as Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet called a national referendum. Citizens were asked a simple question: were they happy with the current regime? If yes, Pinochet would remain in power with a renewed mandate. If no, the country would change forever. While Pinochet had free rein to promote his political agenda, the oppositional No campaign were given only 15 minutes of TV airtime during the early morning hours. So how did Pinochet’s shock defeat happen?
Gael García Bernal plays René Saavedra, a cynical ad executive who is asked to spearhead the No campaign to help bring democracy to Chile. But it’s hard to build a campaign in the face of scant resources, the scrutiny of Pinochet-supporting colleagues, and a growing sense of paranoia fuelled by constant surveillance by the secret police.
NO is a worthy nominee for this year’s Oscar for Best Foreign Film. Its dry satirical humour is perfect as the film explores how the simple marketing idea of happiness was used for political purposes. At first the idea seemed shocking – we see the No campaign leaders take a heavy dislike to Saavedra’s initial pitch. But by combining the wrongs of the regime with the promise of something new and exciting for the nation, the campaign soon struck the right emotional note with Chileans, despite political pressure from the Pinochet camp.
There is plenty to take in with a single viewing. The film reveals what it was like to actively campaign against a vicious regime, with all the attendant personal and professional risks. The dynamic between Saavedra and his boss Lucho Guzmán (Alfredo Castro), which emerges as a central relationship in the film, is particularly interesting. Their initially solid professional bond is continuously tested throughout the film, as each man’s political views are pushed to breaking point. It’s refreshing to see this kind of focus in a politically charged film like NO.
Larraín further enhances the film through the ironic deployment of a low-quality visual aesthetic. The director used old U-matic cameras to recreate the look of analogue TV of the time. By combining Larraín’s images with archive footage from actual campaign videos, NO evokes a far greater sense of authenticity than would be conveyed by the polished Hollywood gloss that movies usually adopt.
NO is a successful companion piece to Larraín’s previous examinations of the Pinochet regime in films such as POST MORTEM, and perfectly captures a dramatic sea change in Chile’s history.
– Iain Boulton, Regal Picturehouse.
NO screens as part of the Discover Tuesdays strand on 12 February at Picturehouse Cinemas across the country. All screenings will feature a special introduction by Amnesty UK and a survivor of the Pinochet regime.