Film and TV

No examines the fate of Chile through the lens of a single election

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" platform 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 Larraín'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. While Saavedra uses the grammar of commercial advertising to sell Chileans democracy, Larraín'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, Larraín can seamlessly mesh staged material with vintage 1988 footage of actual police crackdowns and pro-democracy assemblies.