Directed by Pablo Larraín
In 1988, Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet, due to international pressure, is forced to call a plebiscite on his presidency. The country will vote ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to Pinochet extending his rule for another eight years. Opposition leaders for the ‘No’ vote persuade a brash young advertising executive, Rene Saavedra, to spearhead their campaign. Against all odds, with scant resources and while under scrutiny by the despot’s minions, Saavedra and his team devise an audacious plan to win the election and set Chile free.
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★★★★ review by Adam Cook on Letterboxd
No marks Pablo Larraín’s closing film in his loose trilogy of films based on life in Chile under Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorial rule. Based on the true story of a revolutionary advertising campaign that saw the military leader ousted from power following international pressure to hold a referendum, the film follows the young ad executive who leads the opposition campaign that effectively resulted in a bloodless coup back in 1988.
Larraín’s engrossing film is part history lesson and part satire as he documents the campaign’s growing influence and its unexpected catalyst for change. Gael García Bernal stars as René Saavedra the ad man in charge of the campaign, a man known for creating cheesy and inspirational commercials for soda brands and soap operas. Rather than focusing on the heinous acts committed under Pinochet’s savage regime, Saavedra uses his commercial experience to deliver a campaign that accentuates the hope for what Chile could become without Pinochet in power.
Saavedra’s anthemic campaign of catchy jingles, bold colours and promises of an aspirational future strike a chord with the people and leave Pinochet’s campaign floundering. The film acts as a political awakening for Saavedra, a jaded young family man with career ambitions. Bernal is fantastic in the lead role delivering a naive yet earnest performance as he inadvertently spearheads great change within his country, achieving something his radical and highly politicised ex-wife could not do. It is through his eyes that we witness this inspirational change and demise of a ruthless dictator.
The film employs a novel visual aesthetic with director, Larraín, using U-matic cameras from the period which gives the production a newsreel appearance. By modern standards the VHS-style visuals with its fuzzy and saturated images may look rather ugly but it all helps to create an authenticity and nostalgia that works brilliantly with the material. Larraín seamlessly cuts in genuine archival footage, including some cringe-worthy endorsements from Hollywood celebrities, that all add to the immersive experience.
With an enthralling story, innovative art direction and heartfelt performances, No gets a resounding YES from me.
★★★★ review by Lise on Letterboxd
Here you are, a Chilean, and for the very first time in decades you are given the opportunity to speak freely about Pinochet's atrocities. Without reprisals. Not just that, but you can do it on television. Not just that, but you can do it every day for 15 minutes for 27 days.
Finally you can let other Chileans know exactly what those atrocities were. You can let the world know. Finally the world will know about the disappeared, the tortured, the political prisoners. Everyone will know what really happened in Chile under his watch.
And instead, someone wants to use those 15 minutes to show a happy Chilean people on picnics, dancing in the streets, laughing and singing, hoping for a better tomorrow. A better tomorrow. Seriously? I mean, seriously?
Therein lies the conflict at the heart of NO, a fantastic film about Chile's democratic vote to give Pinochet another 8 year mandate, or not. There is no real campaign for the "no" side for a few reasons. There is no "no" side, really, there are only political groups that have suffered and want the world to know. And besides, everyone knows the entire thing is a facade. Chile must look democratic in order to gain favour with the international community. An official "no" campaign would just legitimize that facade.
So when someone suggests creating a real "no" campaign, leaders of various groups are skeptical. Their concerns reach new heights when the campaign they reluctantly agree to is taken over by René Saavedra (Gael García Bernal), a famous ad executive better known for selling soft drinks than being invested in politics.
The use of lo-def tape and handheld, methods which might induce exasperation given its abuse in the last decade, are used perfectly in this film. They allow the director to seamlessly integrate archival footage with filmed footage, creating a much more integrated historical picture of the day. While the film is fictional, having that documentary look only enhances the story's suspense and its real-life historical background.
I was quite taken with this film, more so than I expected. The history is presented in such a way as to not require prior knowledge of Chile's political situation in the 80s while avoiding the traps of too much exposition and pontification. Director Pablo Larrain allows the characters and their particular circumstances to be the focus, letting the political background shine through their actions more than their speech. While that may have more to do with the fact that the Larrain's screenplay is based on a play (by Antonio Skármeta), Larrain must nonetheless take credit for having created a vivid, suspenseful and always captivating film. If ever there was a question as to whether or not the play was filmable, that question has been firmly put to rest.
★★★★ review by Dragonknight on Letterboxd
”Chile, happiness is coming!”
Pablo Larrain’s No tells the uplifting true story of the 1988 democratic NO campaign where the critics of the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet were trying to beat him in country’s first free election since the 1973 military coup where General Pinochet toppled the democratically elected socialist President, Salvador Allende. From a historic and political point of view No shows that it is possible to fight a totalitarian regime using only democratic ways which means Larrain’s film goes beyond a movie just covering a significant milestone in the history of Chile. It actually becomes an example to follow for all those people fighting authoritarian governments across the world.
Larrain uses handheld cameras and a very unique format of filming to narrate the story, there are sudden pans, tilts and zooms which along with film’s old-fashioned grainy format give No the look of a documentary recording the events surrounding the historic campaign. In order to highlight that characteristic of the film Larrain avoids using any type of dramatization tricks, the dialogues are unpolished, you don’t see any exaggerated action/reaction from the actors and the film’s editing, with numerous jump cuts removing any sort of continuity, further enhance that natural and “un-cinematic” look of the film.
At the center of No is René Saavedra, a man with a ruined personal life who has no interest in the aimless and never-ending arguments of various political groups, the only thing that matters for him is his son and his future and perhaps that’s why soon what at first seems to be another ad campaign for him turns into personal challenge in which he has to prove to himself that he is not a loser who can’t even control his private life and it also gives him a chance to ensure that his son – the most important person in his life - is going to have a bright and safe future. Gabriel Garcia Bernal, with his amazing shaggy hair and beard, brings all the doubt, hopelessness, determination and sadness of René to life and delivers a very solid performance. The look on his face at the end of the film is totally unforgettable.
No is a film made with passion and faith, its story is tremendously inspiring and it features a very finely crafted formal structure, now and after Pablo Larrain’s exciting achievements here I eagerly anticipate his next project.
★★★★ review by Jonathan White on Letterboxd
After watching No, I thought that a pre-requisite to understanding the events depicted is some historical knowledge of Chile’s Pinochet dictatorship. In my case, my slim understanding came from watching Costa-Gavras’s excellent 1982 political intrigue Missing. I felt that No, as a self contained film, didn’t really impart the gravity of the horror of that time. After discussing this point with my better half, I realized that not having foreknowledge or opinion was exactly what director Pablo Larrain wanted. This is not a film for Chileans, it’s a film for the outside world. Rather than propaganda, it strives to represent the feelings of Chile’s populous at the time.
The film centres around the 1988 referendum, whereby the citizenry were to decide if Pinochet would remain in power another 8 years, or if democratic elections would be held immediately. This plebiscite required the granting of TV air time to government opponents, something that had been vigorously and violently suppressed during Pinochet’s rule. Director Larrain’s brilliant stroke here was to concentrate on the making of the television campaigns by both the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ sides. This allows Larrain to show the feelings, beliefs, and fears of both parties, and those of the people, without having to resort to exposition. He also cleverly frames the story of the two ad men that were enlisted to work for the opposing campaigns. What makes this so clever is that he could make the two men dispassionate about the cause they were representing. They were advertising mercenaries, so to speak.
Another great device that Larrain employed was shooting the film on ¾ inch video, widely used at the time for electronic news gathering. This enabled him to seamlessly intercut between dramatic scenes, and real archive news footage of the time. The result is a visually linear, coherent narrative that masks the viewer from the seams between fictionalized remembrances, and documented events. A great question is brought up about this technique though, when you blend reality with fiction in such a homogeneous way you are creating a seemingly perfect document, while in reality the document is as imperfect as memory itself, and the biases of the creator.
No is a window on this specific time in history perfectly aligned with the window in which the International community was watching. While I found it got a bit muddled at times, particularly during the organizational phase of the No campaign, all in all it is captivating and carries you along. What it did for me is make me want to look more into those times and events, and I have a feeling that’s what Larrain wanted.
★★★★ review by Edgar Cochran on Letterboxd
"¡Chile, la alegría ya viene!"
Beyond my expectations, Larraín's historically inspired adaptation of the play "Pebliscito" by Antonio Skármeta as his conclusion to his political trilogy went beyond the boundaries of an accurate condemnation against Communism and dictatorship and pervasively depicted the advertising strategy through a Marketing approach where the underlying political motives can be blurred by said Marketing strategies that only want to maximize audience ratings. The whole social debate and viewpoints intertwined is exceedingly effective between the unshakeable, conservative people that will vote in favor of a stance as long as "I am ok and my son is ok and my family is ok and we have jobs", the youth selfishly declaring that "the campaing is speaking about problems of the past, matters of old people that we haven't lived" and the sensationalist authority figures looking forward to shock in order to signal a portion of the truth and personal shortcomings. How to involve several social strata and generations into a single decision that affects an entire nation? The differing Marketing campaigns shown throughout become, frankly, a hilarious reflection on the power of mass media when influenced by marketers with a political stance rather than the politicians themselves.
Throughout, we witness an undecisive and almost half-and-half split Latin-American nation seeking "happiness" through the deconstruction of the present established political order rather than themselves. We have a tendency to idolize the government as the solution to our lives and demonize it when things are going wrong. We forget about individuality, let alone how God places and removes presidents and kings, and Larraín, with great guts, shows the repercussions of this harmful mentality. "What Chile needs is a miracle", it is said at one point. "Chile needs faith." I approve.
More in the vein of Andrés Wood's Machuca (2004), No is a good closure for two defining decades in Chile's history and, ironically, leaves a sour taste in the mouth. Was the nation, especially the younger voting generations, able to grasp 15 years of military oppression and violation of human rights in 15 minutes? Fact remains, as a developing country, Chile has now statistically higher ratings of quality of life today than it did three decades ago.
P.D. Un saludo a mis hermanos chilenos.
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