Review originally written for Doha Film Institute website.
Set in Chile in 1988 during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, the film is about the ‘No’ campaign that ended 15 years of power abuse and military rule.
Advertising in-demand executive Rene Saavedra (Gael Garcia Bernal) is the son of a prominent Chilean protester sent into exile and a single father separated from the wife he’s trying to reconcile with. But outside the relationship saga, he leads a successful career in the world of TV commercials.
One of his father’s old friends pays him an unexpected visit asking René to run the advertisement campaign of the leftist wing. For the first time since Pinochet’s rule, and due to international pressure, opposition is given 15-minute of broadcast in an attempt to shift the public opinion in voting ‘No’ against the despot in the upcoming national plebiscite.
He accepts to be a ‘consultant’, a soft way of describing his active contributions in order to avoid the rage of his right-wing fanatic boss Lucho Guzman (Alfredo Castro). Late night clandestine meetings compensate his thorough involvement, while his days take the normal route of brainstorming for now-banal products.
René sees in this campaign a hope to uplift the spirit of Chileans away from the powerful yet predictable images of torture and kidnapping. Instead, he aims for a more creative and positive strategy planned around the theme of ‘Allgeria’ or happiness. The unconventional work with rainbow and postcard-like representations start to harvest very positive public responses. Still pressured by the pseudo-democratic regime, the task is more challenging than expected; especially that René’s boss is now hired for the ‘Yes’ campaign.
Shot in U-matic, colors and texture are faithful to the standards of the late 80s. It feels like a home-movie with extreme close-ups and abrupt camera movements but add a heart-warming and realistic approach true to documentaries. This wouldn’t have been elevated to distinction without the more-than-wonderful performance of Gael Garcia Bernal, it is his most mature role thus far. The end credits of the film saw a burst of applause when his name popped on screen while showing at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival.
With all the uprisings in the region, the film is timely and serves as a symbolic mirror to what we’ve been living in the people vs. dictators battle-not intentionally maybe. The power of media is portrayed in its maximal capacity similar to the support of social media platforms in more recent revolutions.
Pablo Larraín’s ‘No’ is Chile’s entry for the 2012 Foreign-Language Academy Award Submissions. The film is a coup de Coeur with a long lasting reflexive and emotional glow. ‘No’ is the kind of films that are felt, it lifts the spirits of doubts and leaves the audience with a positive sentiment just like the campaign. It questions power over passion and moral commitment. It is by far the best I’ve seen this year.