Written by Pedro Peirano
Directed by Pablo Larraín
The style of No might alienate some viewers. When one gets over the deliberately grainy film quality, there is a really marvelous film here. In it, Gael Garcia Bernal plays René Saavedra, a young advertising executive who specializes in flashy ad campaigns that cater to the youth and show the people of Chile that, “they are ready for the future”. When he is approached by an old friend of his family to help direct promotional spots to entice the Chilean public to vote “No” against its dictator, Augusto Pinochet, he has his doubts initially. He quickly realizes that it’s the right thing to do and begins working on the campaign while his boss at the advertising agency begins working for the “Yes” campaign.
Filmed to resemble a newsreel item or home movie from the 1980s, the visual style of No will definitely take some getting used to. However, what lurks behind the grainy overexposed images is a fascinating look at how a dictator was overthrown by his own people without bloodshed but with a clever campaign. The concept of their campaign – “Happiness is in the future, Chile” is brilliant and would no doubt impress even the likes of Mad Men’s Don Draper. It’s hard not to think of Mad Men while watching this film, not because they’re particularly similar (except for a meticulous attention to period detail) but because No definitely owes some of the interest in this film due to the attention the advertisement industry has gotten through a show like Mad Men. No longer do we see the advertisement agency as evil but we are able to acknowledge the people behind the campaigns and the sheer genius work they are able to produce (even if it’s for products we would never buy). In No, Garcia Bernal’s character happens to be selling a product we can all identify with and it makes it that much more easy to root for his character’s success.
The film’s greatest achievement was to cast Gael Garcia Bernal, who is slowly establishing himself as a bona fide star. In No, he gives easily his greatest performance since 2004 when he starred in both Bad Education and The Motorcycle Diaries. He is so adept at a certain kind of calmness and subtleness but can be more overtly showy, too, when the situation demands it. It’s hard to imagine anyone else pulling off the character of René Saveedra who is both idealistic and pessimistic and has to take on situation he never dreamed of when he got into the advertising business.
No is an assured document about a chaotic time and though it may not be to everyone’s liking visually, it boasts a strong central performance and a script that is both funny and shrewd. No is the third and last film in director Pablo Larraín’s Pinochet trilogy, which also consists of Tony Manero and Post Mortem. It’s probably also the strongest of the three and makes for a great ending for the trilogy.
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