Film: No (2012)
Cast includes: Gael García Bernal (The Motorcycle Diaries), Alfredo Castro (Tony Manero), Antonia Zegers (Post Mortem)
Writer/Director: Pablo Larraín (Tony Manero, Post Mortem)
Genre: Drama | History (118 minutes) Spanish with subtitles
In the first minutes, we get a whirlwind history lesson... 1973, General Augusto Pinochet taking power in Chile... international pressure... new constitution... more international pressure... finally a national plebiscite set for October 5, 1988. During the month before the vote, both sides have 15 minutes a day to make their case on TV. A YES vote means you support Pinochet... NO vote means you don't. We first catch up with Rene Saavedra as he's pitching a soft drink commercial with the tag line "Feel free." The client loves it... it has everything the youth market needs. And Rene has everything he needs... a good job and a comfortable life. Maybe that's why he's not eager to take José Urrutia's call. Urrutia wants Rene to put his efforts behind the NO campaign. Urrutia already knows all the objections... "the election is fixed... no chance... foreign money..."
When Rene does decide to meet with the NO supporters and see what they have in mind, he cringes. They want to "scare people with their past"... political prisoners, beatings, executions, terrorism, injustice.... Meanwhile, the YES team wants to remind Chileans how much more prosperous they are today... "show Pinochet's blue eyes and winning smile." Even though the NO team wants Rene's help, they believe his ideas are shallow. He wants to sell NO as if it's a new soft drink. Rene wants to make NO into "A product that's as attractive to old ladies as to young people." It's a bumpy road getting there, but the campaign finally launches a happiness offensive... "Chili, happiness is coming"... complete with a cute rainbow.
While the history of the national plebiscite is real, the story about developing the NO campaign is fiction. For Americans watching this movie, it's a little hard to know where facts give way to fiction because the history isn't as familiar to us. And on the topic of disadvantages for American viewers... those of us who have to read subtitles may find them quite fast moving, especially in the most informative parts. While it's not hard to follow the top-line plot developments, you might find yourself wishing for a slightly deeper understanding. Still, it's an interesting window into a political campaign, Chilean style. The Chilean Don Draper isn't as slick as the Mad Men version... he's often the only guy in the room not wearing a suit and the only guy who commutes on a skateboard... but he's just as determined and revered by colleagues. We're not sure how passionate he is about the political issues, but we know he definitely believes in the power of a strong campaign. The film combines historic footage with reenacted scenes, but all the new footage is shot in a way that blends seamlessly with the historic scenes... just another detail that makes it hard to divide fact from fiction. In many ways Chilean advertising rather quaint, but still, it's easy to recognize campaign tactics that are familiar in the US. While the NO campaign committee thinks they'll need a miracle, Rene thinks it's not impossible to overturn years of "learned hopelessness"... not with fear however, but with aspirations.
3 popped kernels (Scale: 0-4)
A political campaign Chilean style focus on the 1988 national plebiscite to reelect or defeat Dictator Augusto Pinochet
Rated: R (Violence)
Distribution: Art house
Tempo: Cruises comfortably
Visual Style: Unvarnished realism
Character Development: Engaging
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Thought provoking
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