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Friday, 29 March 2013 01:00

A strong 'Yes' to the film 'No'

A strong 'Yes' to the film 'No'
Written by Diane Carson
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Chile, 1988, held a most unusual plebiscite: vote "yes" or "no" to continue for eight more years the rule of dictator Augusto Pinochet. Having come to power in 1973 in a CIA-backed, military coup, Pinochet has reluctantly yielded to international pressure to hold this referendum, certain he'll win. 97% of the population turned out.

The opposition, a rainbow coalition of 16 groups, had 15 minutes on television late each night for 27 days to make its case for voting "No." This fascinating chapter in world history inspired a trilogy by Chilean director Pablo Larrain. For the first two--"Tony Manero" and "Post Mortem"--Larrain uses a very different, minimalist style with dark art direction. By contrast, "No" is bright and defined by quick cuts, appropriate to the advertising world the story inhabits.

The central character, René Saavedra is a composite of two real individuals involved in the "no" campaign and appearing in small roles in this film. In fact, many of the extras participated in the 1988 events. But René, his activist ex-wife Verónica, their son Simon, and conservative ad agency boss Guzman drive the narrative. The practical-minded René at first resists involvement, more comfortable selling soft drinks and the new gadget, the microwave. Soon, despite threats against him and his colleagues, René tries to take charge of the television segments. Heated debate ensues about what will and won't sell in politics. Connections to our own recent campaign are not difficult to tease out, making "NO" that much more engaging.

Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal brings his astonishing talent and on-screen charisma to the role of René. Technically, Larrain decided to shoot with 1980s analog Ikegami cameras, allowing him to seamlessly integrate fully 30% of the actual ads and jingles into the film. It does mean more soft focus, more sun flares, and less definition, all of which I enjoyed because it perfectly captures the period. Criticized in Chile for being too simplistic and reductionistic concerning the 1988 plebiscite, "NO" does provide one important and immensely entertaining piece to the bigger picture, as it resonates with numerous contemporary parallels.

Among other of its awards, though it didn't win, "NO" is the first Chilean film to be included in the top five Oscar candidates for Best Foreign Film. In Spanish with English subtitles. At a Landmark Theatre.


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