Published Mar 14, 2013Completing his trilogy on the 17-year presidential regime of Augusto Pinochet, Chilean director Pablo Larrain's No explores the 1988 plebiscite that ultimately led to his downfall and overall democratic rule.
But rather than present a mere biopic of events surrounding the referendum, Larrain shot this entire film in analog with a 4:3 aspect ratio, creating an authentic, albeit ugly, aesthetic, and told the story from the perspective of an advertising guru trying to motivate citizens to vote.
Since the governmental conceit – considered a crock after the controversy surrounding the 1980 referendum – would force a democratic election should the majority Chilean vote be the titular "No," political dissidents hire suave ad exec René Saavedra (Gael Garcia Bernal) to create content for the 15 minutes a day they're allowed for television campaigning.
On the opposing side is Saavedra's boss, Lucho (Alfredo Castro), whose tendency towards dirty tactics and attack campaigning enlivens the debate, much to the delight of onlookers previously uninvolved in (read: resigned to) politics.
Rather than bog down his daily 15 minutes with dreary reiterations of the many woes stemming from the protracted dictatorship, Saavedra adopts a "happiness" slogan involving a rainbow, catchy jingles and an abundance of enthusiastic montages to manipulate, or motivate, voters into action. Glibly, he reduces broad political change to a Coca-Cola commercial, inserting images from "We are the World" and American fast-food ads. There are even TV spots that feature a husband trying to convince his wife to say, "Yes" in the bedroom.
This borderline satire of mass media control and puppetry is ultimately what makes this stylized biopic of sorts into entertaining comedy. Just as protests go out of control and Saavedra's family is harassed and threatened by political leaders, the amusing commercials and dramatic pleas from the likes of Jane Fonda and Christopher Reeve keep everything saucy and irreverent enough to inspire chuckles.
It's this ability to make dark comedy out of the horrific that makes No stand out from a sea of similar pedagogical biographical films. Think of this as Wag the Dog or In the Loop, only based on actual events and with subtitles.
At least we can laugh while being told how easy it is to control and guide the majority of any given population. (Mongrel Media)