Preceded by Tony Manero and Post Mortem, No completes Pablo Larrain’s loose trilogy about life under Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet. Albeit conceived in strong historical and political context; this story is a barefaced tale centered on young advertising executive, René Saavedra (portrayed with flair by enigmatic chameleon, Gael García Bernal) — thus making the film accessible to a wide range of foreign viewers.
The time is 1988 and Pinochet has officially held office since 1973. In a calculated move to mitigate external pressure against his ironfisted regime, Pinochet confidently initiates a national referendum calling on citizens to vote and decide, whether an eight-year extension into 1996 is valid. The probabilities of course, are carefully measured and his likelihood of winning is rock solid.
In this heartfelt homage to Chilean history, both sides are attempting to secure voters by fighting it out via 30-minute spots on TV — 15-minutes for the “Yes” camp and 15-minutes for “No”. An agency that employs René has been commissioned to design a series of ads for the Government of Junta; with bossman Luis Guzmán (Alfredo Castro) helping Pinochet. Conflict arises when René exercises his liberty as a freelancer to promote the opposition’s campaign.
Story begins with a cold open showing creative grit — René is previewing a new commercial with clients in the beverage industry. Within the first few minutes, we find out who he really is — a cautious and shrewd creative director, highly sought after by clients, bit of a rebel in the vein of Don Draper — someone who believes in unorthodox methods and selling the notion of freedom.
A sudden visit from opposition manager José Tomás Urrutia, interrupts his meeting with the clients. In conversations between René and José interfused with a dinner scene between René and his boss, Luis — we drift through a climate of skepticism surrounding the legitimacy of Pinochet’s referendum, residual fears evolved from the red scare, and opinions about the United States after alleged involvement in the Chilean Coup of 1973. Accusations and recriminations are spewed in hushed, civil tones. Disparity in views [as they are in life] are recorded in raw, unfiltered strides.
In a track sequence depicting René’s journey home on a skateboard, audacious visual-aural symphony amplifies your hunch about his transformation, and the situation about to unfold. A representative of young blood, it is here that Larrain’s spunky protagonist displays progressive streak coursing through his veins, thus establishing an emotional, life-affirming choice provoked by his earlier exchange with Luis.
The film charts two narrative blueprints juxtaposed next to each other: the No campaign from inception to post-referendum, and how it is inextricably linked to René’s democratic ideology. Against the backdrop of fierce competition between both camps, his middle-class existence as a single father still harbouring feelings for his ex-wife comes into close, intimate focus.
When public opinion starts swinging towards No’s provocative campaign; hinting at a cultural movement cleverly sparked by politically neutral concepts such as love, happiness and freedom, Pinochet’s lackeys begin a series of menacing threats that undulate in dangerous, unpredictable shadows. Shot with an aspect ratio of 4:3; the format also infers a theme concerned with lasting effects created by commercials on TV, suggesting how a simple medium can influence political views, even create landslide victories for the underdog.
Things come to a hauntingly ironic conclusion, that much is obvious, but No is a tremendously simple film that burns with quiet ferocity. Pablo Larrain displays his gift in using visual moods, incisive dialogue and dramatic scores; giving shape to the social atmosphere in 1980s Chile — rife with unquenchable thirst for liberty and change, yet pensive and scarred by a violent past.
Although punctuated with flashes of humor and scathing wit, this Oscar nominee in foreign language category is an intense historical drama that works on a deeper level by finding resonance with universal emotions. Passion seeps through every frame, culminating in a mood most aptly expressed by Tchaikovsky’s valse sentimentale.
LANGUAGE IN SPANISH