There is something unsettling in the storytelling of No, a Chilean film, written and directed by Pablo Larraín to an unpublished play titled El Plebiscito by Antonio Skármeta. No covers about a month in 1988, during which Chile, under Pinochet, was subjected to an intense political advertising campaign. Atypical of a dictatorship, Pinochet, under international pressure, allowed the campaign to take place in preparation for a public vote, held to determine if he is to remain in power. Chilean citizens were to say Yes and see eight more years of Pinochet, or No, to remove him. It may be difficult for us, a democracy, to conceive why voting Yes would even be an option, but the film does a decent job showing that the call was not that simple. Despite his horrible acts during his presidency, Pinochet made Chile, at least for a while, a shining economy. Also, at the time, some Chileans felt the vote will anyhow be rigged, so getting people to come out and cast their choice was not that simple.
What makes No, the film, special, is its unique perspective. It follows a young promising advertising executive who guides the No campaign; a campaign organized by a coalition of the opposition parties. The plot further thrusts this character, René, played by the mesmerizing Mexican actor Gael García Bernal, against various opposing powers, including his own agency's boss, his ex-wife, members of his own campaign and, of course, the Pinochet administration of terror. Aside of its political aspects, No is also fascinating as an exercise in the art of advertising and the psychology behind it. Watching No, one may be reminded somewhat of the successful American TV series Mad Men.
Director Larraín uses a very rough style of filmmaking, which does not only make the events feel more authentic, but also allows combing real footage from the time in a completely integrated manner. The style includes handheld camera, washed-out colors, usage of low definition 3/4 inch magnetic videotape, used by television news in Chile at the time, and quick cuts, increasing the nervousness of the plot. Despite its seriousness No includes several brief yet well-timed moments of comic relief.
It should be noted that this Academy Award nominated film was received to mixed reviews in Chile. Genaro Arriagada Herrera, who directed the real No campaign, felt the film ignored the grassroots movement of the time, and made it seem like the TV ads were all it took to make Chile rid of Pinochet. To its defense, the filmmaker claimed that this film is not a documentary but a work of art, focusing on specific aspects he wished to explore.
If you are interested in good intense drama, based on historical events, say Yes to No.