Directed by: Pablo Larrain
Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Alfredo Castro, Luis Gnecco, Antonia Zegers
Sassi’s Star Rating: 4.5/5
The first few moments of this film really didn’t impress me. Looking at the blurry, multicoloured titles I thought that I had walked into yet another 3D movie without picking up the requisite glasses (yes, it happens more often than you’d think for someone who spends a such a significant portion of their life in cinemas). It took a quick look around to realise that I wasn’t the only spectacle-less reviewer in the house.
I’d read the situation wrong, No was actually in 2D after all. My eyes were just struggling to adjust to the image quality of the Sony U-Matic tape that Larrain has filmed on. For those playing at home it’s that muted, blurry type of film that was widely used in the seventies and eighties. Where the effect is off-putting at first it very quickly becomes fascinating and then ultimately striking as you are pulled right back to the era the film is set in.
No marks the third film in a loose trilogy of sorts by director Pablo Larrain exploring life in Chile under dictator Augusto Pinochet’s reign. It’s 1988 and his government is bowing to international pressure to validate his leadership. They decide to hold a token plebiscite, in which the Chilean public must vote Yes or No to Pinochet remaining in power. An equal 15 minutes of television broadcast time is allotted to both the Yes and the No to broadcast their campaigns. The No team know that they can’t win, but they know this is their chance direct some well aimed hits.
Young and successful advertising hot shot René Saavedra (Gael Garcia Bernal) is approached to lead the Yes campaign, but the only freedom Saavedra is used to selling is the superficial concept he underpinned his latest cola campaign with. Anyone who has worked in marketing or advertising will be simultaneously impressed and repulsed by just how bang on the rhetoric captured in this film is.
Saavedra is a little too old to still be riding a skateboard, a little too cocky to be respected at work, and a little too hung up on his revolutionary ex (played by Larrain’s partner Antonia Zegers). He doesn’t want anything to do with the campaign at first, but when faced with the unoptimistic pitch the No is presenting he can’t help but get involved. Why can’t the Yes win? Why can’t they even try? He might be a bit of a joke, but when it comes down to it Saavedra knows what he is talking about.
And he is going to sell it the only way he knows how; with rainbows, catchy jingles and celebrity endorsements. Larrain masterfully intertwines new footage with actual footage from the 1988 campaign and the result is seamless. It’s not just powerful outside the story, but also within it. Struck harder than anticipated Pinochet’s team begin to fight back hard, and they’re not playing fair. Saavedra’s job is further made difficult when his boss (Alfredo Castro) decides to work for the Yes campaign.
A blend of compelling drama and dark comedy with a fantastic cast and engaging writing, No is a testament to interesting filmmaking. One can see why is has been generating so much awards buzz over the past year, this is one of my top films of 2013.
No is in cinemas now.
Category: Film & TV