Craig's Movie Breakdown: "No"

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An ad executive comes up with a campaign to defeat Augusto Pinochet in Chile's 1988 referendum.
3.5

Movie Review: "No" -

The Lead-up:

An inspiring Chilean film that debuted to strong acclaim at Cannes last year, “No” was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Oscar at this year’s Academy Awards, where it lost to “Amour”. The film is based on a true story of a 1988 publicity campaign that led to democratic elections that eventually ousted Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, a man responsible for several successful economic reforms, but also corruption, thousands of deaths, 80,000 interned in concentration camps, and 30,000 tortured, including women and children. This is not the first time director Pablo Larrain has used Pinochet for a subject. His 2010 film “Post Mortem” was a fictionalized story that used Pinochet’s 1973 military coup that overthrew former President Salvador Allende as a backdrop. Pedro Peirano wrote the script for the film, based off an unpublished play by Antonio Skarmeta.

The Plot:

Facing increased pressure from his opposition, President Augusto Pinochet calls for a vote on whether or not Chile should keep him around or turn to a democratic election. For 27 days the people of Chile would be shown ads for and against his reinstatement. The “No to Pinochet” campaign calls upon a young advertising executive named Rene Saavedra (Gael Garcia Bernal, “Y Tu Mama Tambien”, “The Motorcycle Diaries”, “Babel”) to create ads to fill it’s 15 minutes of television air time per day.

Review:

Like many of you, I knew very little about this election or much about Chilean politics before I did some (meager) research on it and watched this film. “No” has been criticized by some who say that the movie side-tracks any political context at the time and gives too much credit to Saavedra, who is actually a composite of several ad execs at the time, and his team and to that I say “sure”. At no time in “No” do we feel like we’re getting the full story but more like 25 percent of it. This is a small part but there’s also no denying that television advertising has become a major part of the political process, something that can be seen as both a grain of truth but also heavily manipulated.

“No” hits on these things. There’s quite a few advertising conundrums here. First Saavedra needs to convince people who have been too repressed by fear or convinced that this is all a fraud that Pinochet is perpetuating and he has no intention of ever being overthrown, secondly he needs to build a campaign that is one of levity and hope but also cannot deny the pain and atrocities of the past while also not inspiring more fear among the people, and third he has to do it with repeated harassment by those in higher positions. Obviously this all worked out but anyone with a strong interest in media will have a fine time analyzing these ads, both for their ability to get the message across and for the degree of sugar-coating used. One ad in particular of an officer beating a man in the street, complete with audio commentary, struck me as the most powerful. That’s the great part about the movie. The ad’s are actually documentary footage of real ads. In addition Larrain shoots the rest of the film in U-Matic video tape, which gives it a washed-out, bland looking 80’s feel that puts you right back into the time period.

But if you’re not terribly interested in media, you’re still going to get a strong David vs. Goliath story and maybe the most popular Mexican actor of his time, Garcia Bernal, gives a fantastic performance as this ad-man, who balances his characters first inclination to give everything a light comic touch with a man who is ready to orchestrate a huge change. One of the things I would have liked more information on is the relationship between Saavedra and his activist wife; at one moment they seem married and the next they’re divorced and she with another man and I completely missed their problem. The second half also loses steam as we get closer to an election where the outcome is already known. But as a movie about using media as a weapon in politics, it works very well.