Starring: Gael García Bernal, Alfredo Castro, Antonia Zegers
You may like this if you liked: Lincoln (Steven Spielberg, 2012), The Last King of Scotland (Kevin Macdonald, 2006), Cry Freedom (Richard Attenborough, 1987)
In Chile in 1988 military dictator Augusto Pinochet due to international pressure calls a referendum to legitimise his regime. Despite what has happened under his regime it seems a foregone conclusion that the people of Chile will predominantly vote ‘yes’. In a desperate bid to defy the odds, the opposition organising the ‘no’ campaign employ a young advertising executive called René Saavedra (Bernal) to head their campaign.
No has been marketed as the ‘Spanish Mad Men’ which I understand as it may get us uncultured Westerners watching it, but there is so much more to this film than Jon Hamm wearing suits and sleeping with women. In fact, due to the subject of the film I am sure there is some kind of irony in that. No is a compelling, involving and expertly put together political drama in its own right.
This is not a moment in history I am particularly knowledgeable about but that in no way hampers the involvement of No. There is a brief scene setting at the beginning and then what follows is actually a simple story. The first thirty minutes or so do require attention as they are dialogue heavy with very snappy editing so you are required to read the subtitles quite quickly but you are amply rewarded as what then follows is an extremely watchable and compelling drama. All the heavy dialogue is necessary to show the intelligence displayed by Saavedra as he applies marketing techniques to persuade the population of Chile to vote ‘no’ which is the best thing to do for their country. Marketing itself is a notoriously dull subject but in No this never feels alienating and it is generally fascinating how Saavedra applies positive images to a notoriously negative word.
The marketing videos used are a joy to watch as due to what has happened before in the film the viewer can truly appreciate the genius behind them. What is also very effective is that the ‘no’ videos are often shown preceding the ‘yes’ campaign videos which makes compelling viewing. No is also very much a technical success. The director made the very bold decision to film the whole thing using cameras from 1988 and merge what was filmed with archive footage. In my opinion this proves to be a success as the transition from filmed to archive footage is seamless and adds to a smoother flow of the narrative. Of course this means the whole film is not in widescreen so when seeing it at the cinema it seemed a little narrow at first. However this does not detract from the viewing experience in any way as just like with watching something in black and white, you just get very used to it pretty much straight away. This technical aspect along with quick editing and constant use of close ups all contributes to a very genuinely involving experience. No is a perfect example of how the medium of film can manipulate the different technical methodologies available to create a more involving and effective viewing experience.
Gael García Bernal gives an excellent performance making the protagonist likeable and sympathetic despite the fact Saavedra is only actually doing his job and seems to not care too much about the result of the referendum.
No is a compelling and deeply involving depiction of an important moment in Chile’s history, with its unique style only adding to the emotional power. A thoroughly recommended and unique film experience.
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