The simplistic title of this film refers to one of the choices given to the Chilean public during the monumental national plebiscite in 1988. The issue at hand was the continuation of General Augusto Pinochet’s military dictator regime. NO meant down with Pinochet; YES meant stay the course. Pablo Larrain’s new feature tells the story of this contentious period leading up to the vote from the point of view of the dueling advertising agencies charged with convincing the public to vote YES or NO.
No (2012) dir. Pablo Larrain
Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal
By Alan Bacchus
Of course, Larrain centres on the NO side, specifically Gael Garcia Bernal’s character, Rene Saavedra, a hot-shot ad man who treats the political issue like selling soda pop. Prompted by international pressure, rules were set to ensure a fair campaign. Each side was allowed 15 minutes of airtime in each of the 27 days leading up to the election to convey information, state their case and convince the public.
Obstacles facing Rene include the angry liberal left, which wanted to vilify Pinochet as a violent tyrant who imprisoned thousands of innocent citizens during his reign; the apprehensive public, who feared even going to the polls; and the conniving opposition headed by Rene’s old boss, Lucho Guzman, an equal match to Rene’s commercial savvy.
Larrain throws us into the war room of activity as ideas get bounced around, and he's sure to highlight the absurd and uproarious comical options discussed. He consistently oscillates between the socio-political gravitas of the stakes and a strong farcical tone. Bernal's goofy visage makes him the ideal hero in the endeavour. Of course, he's rugged and handsome as a leading man, but also his youth and small physical stature reminds us of the David vs. Goliath challenge in which he finds himself.
No won the a special Art Cinema Prize at the Director’s Fortnight Program at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, due in part to Larrain’s bold stylistic choice to shoot on ordinary, old-school video and with a decidedly undramatic 4:3 full frame. It’s an inspired choice. The ugly graininess of video image immediately puts us in the time and place of the era and it integrates invisibly into the cleverly edited stock footage of the period. The result is an immersive political statement and the ideal artifact of this momentous period in Latin American politics.