In 1988, the fate of Chile and its dictator came down to a ballot as simple as a middle-schooler’s Do-you-like-me? note. A referendum, demanded by international pressure, offered citizens a simple choice: a “yes” for allowing President Augusto Pinochet to return to office for another eight years, or a “no” for something — anything — else. Tyrants control their media, of course; the national “debate” plat-form was two fifteen-minute television slots in which opposing viewpoints could be voiced, after which regularly scheduled programming — that is, flagrantly pro-Pinochet propaganda — would resume. Pablo Larrain’s ad-world political thriller No uses the actual commercial material the opposition created for the anti-Pinochet campaign and re-creates the behind-the-scenes filming.
Ad exec René Saavedra (Gael García Bernal) is introduced pitching a campaign for a cola called Free. Though Saavedra’s father was a political exile, he’s established a comfortable middle-class home for his own son. All of this is put at risk when Saavedra, approached for his expertise by a representative for the seventeen motley opposition parties, agrees to act as a consultant on their “No” TV spots, streamlining their dissent into a single cogent message to crack the dictatorship’s calcified consensus and sell, yes, freedom.
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While Saavedra uses the grammar of commercial advertising to sell Chileans democracy, Larrain’s film works within an aesthetic template of its own: the language of contemporary hand-held cinematic realism. By shooting on 3/4” Sony U-matic magnetic tape, the standard format of pre-1990 television news, Larrain can seamlessly mesh staged material with vintage 1988 footage of actual police crackdowns and pro-democracy assemblies.
March 22-28, 2013