In his closing film to the Tony Manero and Post-Mortem trilogy, Pablo Larrain brings color to the political situation in Chile.
Set in 1988, this movie takes viewers on a historical journey as international pressures force Augusto Pinochet to call a plebiscite on his presidency. Chileans have the chance to vote YES or NO to Pinochet extending his presidency for another eight years. With a democratically allotted 15 minutes per day, the YES and NO campaign compete to win the Chilenas’ hearts and minds. Yet, it soon becomes clear that the NO campaign has a difficult task ahead of them. Not only must they spread their message of a Pinochet-free future they must also motivate the people to cast their ballots. As a result of Pinochet’s regime, many Chileans feel disillusioned and believe that the election is rigged and their vote does not matter. But the underdog NO campaign has the young advertising expert, Rene Saavedra (Gael Garcia Bernal), who infuses their campaign with spunk.
With surprising historical accuracy, Larrain lets the story of Rene’s personal life unfold in the larger context of Chile. Rene is a cautiously hopeful NO campaigner while his love,Veronica (Antonia Zegers), represents the disillusioned youth. Their broken marriage is symbolic of the internal divisons within the NO. Similarly, the uncomfortable, joint-care of their son, Simon (Pascal Montero), helps to portray Rene as a real person; not just an idealistic dreamer. By offering this multi-dimensional view of the protagonist, Larain gives the film color and voice.
Yet, Rene’s personal story does not detract from the historical accuracy and serious undertones of the film. Shot with the U-matic magnetic tape prevalent in the 1980s, the film melds with the archived video footage from the YES and NO’s ads. Unlike the typical politician, Rene brings another flavor of political activism to the screen. With cute jingles, ringing anthems, and a rainbow emblem the NO advocates for a Chile free from oppression. Larrain manages to capture and humanize the political unrest in Chile without falling prey to documentary-style generalizations and banalities.
Just as the NO campaign had the power to speak to Chileans in the late 1980s, NO’s actors reach from the screen and grasp the emotions of viewers. One of Rene’s fellow campaigners asks “What’s happier than happiness”? Although he does not receive a direct answer, Larrain’s entire film can be thought of as the response to this question. In addition to capturing and humanizing the Chilean political situation in 1988, NO reaches beyond, making viewers question the power of the media and the role of positive propaganda.
NO opens in theatres February 15th, is presented by Sony Pictures Classics, runs in Spanish with English subtitles, lasts 110 minutes, and is rated R (for language).