A simple title and a simple premise, No, documents the campaigns of both sides of the fence looking to either extend the Chilean President Augusto Pinochet’s reign of dictatorship, or to reject an extension and bring in democratic elections.
Not necessarily billed as one of three, but No slots in as Pablo Larraín’s third film in a trilogy about the Pinochet-era of Chile (After Tony Manero and Post Mortem), it serves as a benchmark for what are clearly his negative memories of the Pinochet ruling, but it carries a depth far greater than that of a historical blame game.
René Saavedra, played by Gael García Bernal heads up the No campaign; a young media executive who has the tricky task of convincing the public of voting against a dictator who claims to continue the supposed prosperity they were experiencing, and to attempt to convince the disengaged majority that voting was actually a worthwhile cause. Further to that, his boss Lucho Guzmán played by Alfredo Castro leads the “Yes” team, a battle they believe could easily be won. This conflicting circumstance is one of many sub-plots that filter in and out of Saavedra’s campaign, and allows us to gain a wider perspective outside of the offices and TV studios.
Each campaign is allowed an allotted time on TV to promote their causes, and as it draws closer to the final referendum the anticipation reaches fever pitch. It is an intense journey, with its excitable story driven home by the blending of archival footage and the film itself, which was shot on VHS similar to that of the newsreels at the time. Although fictionalised, the level of authenticity brought to this adapted screenplay enables you to completely buy into this notion that one man’s creative mind can make a difference in uniting a nation.
The themes of the marketing campaigns transcend the boundaries of the TV slots, and seep into each of our characters’ lives. Love, happiness, loyalty, deceit and misery all play a part in this hugely emotional film, that allow No to reach an audience much wider than those with just a political and/or historical interest. No does have its flaws, but as is often the case these can be overlooked in favour of the incredible performance from Gael García Bernal. His character transformation is a simply captivating piece of cinema, and holds the entire film together.
At its core, this is a straightforward and clever film. With a sharp script, great performances and a creative use of dated film styling’s, No uses the historical storyline it has at its disposal and creates a compelling drama that was deemed worthy enough of an Oscar nomination. Highly recommended.