When, pressured by the international community, Chile's military dictator Augusto Pinochet calls for a Yes / No referendum to decide his permanence in power in 1988, the leaders of the opposition persuade a daring young advertising executive - René Saavedra (Gael Garcia Bernal) - to design their 'No' campaign. With limited resources and under the constant scrutiny of the despot's watchmen, Saavedra and his team conceive of a bold plan to win the referendum and free their country from oppression.
Review by Louise Keller:
Reverse psychology and a brave, inventive campaign motivate the downtrodden people of Chile to vote No in the 1988 plebiscite against the 17 year rule of Dictator Augusto Pinochet. Chilean director Pablo Larrain, whose 2008 and 2010 films Tony Manero and Post Mortem describe Pinochet's brutal dictatorship, has rounded out his depiction with a flourish by recounting the true story of how an advertising campaigner changes the public perception. It's an extraordinary story and Larrain tells it with all the passion of a historian, Gael García Bernal perfectly cast as the advertising executive Rene Saavedra. Those interested in history will be fascinated, while the layman will latch onto the incongruity of the tale, even though some of the story lags.
From producing a television advertisement promoting a soft drink called Free in which an addictive joyousness is dished up to the consumer, Saavedra is asked by Urrutia (Luis Gnecco), an alleged Communist, to give his opinion on the campaign created for the upcoming No vote against Pinochet, denouncing his dictatorship. With the Chilean population unsure whether the plebiscite is designed to simply endorse Pinochet or if it is legit and offers the man in the street a chance to stand up and be counted, the initial campaign opts for the obvious statistics citing torture and citizens who have disappeared or died. Saavedra's ex-wife Veronica (Antonia Zegers) is one such believer, bringing an edge of cynicism to the inner circle.
While Saavedra's vision to offer the sizzle of 'happiness', via rainbows and optimism through pretty girls, flowers, smiles, blossoms, wild horses, dancing and a catchy jingle meets with initial opposition, it is deemed a winner, much to the dismay and anger of Government officials working on the staid opposing Yes vote campaign. Ironically, it is Lucho Guzmán (Alfredo Castro), Saavedra's boss, who heads up the Yes campaign.
Hindsight allows the absurdity of the situation to be seen clearer; fear is present and real to all the participants at the time. They are never sure whether or not they will also become a sad statistic in the history books of Chile. Grainy filmmaking brings the look of the era and meticulous research opens an unlikely window into an extraordinary moment of Chilean history.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Going boldly where no advertising man has gone before, René Saavedra (Gael Garcia Bernal) applies some contemporary (1988) advertising techniques to a political campaign intended to secure a popular consensus to deny oppressive dictator Pinochet continued power after 15 terrible years. It's a great and true story, but I wish it were better told on screen, because despite its Oscar nomination (Best Foreign Language Film), No is not as cinematically satisfying as I had expected. All the same, it's engaging and at times impressively fused with archival footage, which sits comfortably along the retro filmmaking style of old video stock in a hand held camera and a 4:3 ratio, giving it the feel of the era, complete with newsreel footage to match.
While Gael Garcia Bernal is a likeable if remote and unemotional young creative ad exec, the story has insufficient focus to get the crucial details across; the various elements of the campaign and the various people contributing to it are all blurred. Of course, for those politically engaged, it is a film of great import, recording and celebrating the revolutionary will of the people over dictatorship, without a drop of blood being spilled.
What is also genuinely interesting is the intersection of Saavedra's political activism alongside his ad agency's boss, who is consulting for the incumbent's Yes campaign. Alfredo Castro does a great job delivering this character, who convinces us that this is in fact possible.
The sense of danger from the threat of spies and secret police is well conveyed to set the context and the ever-present little boy - Saavedra's - underscores both the importance of the referendum and the future of Chile.
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CAST: Gael Garcia Bernal, Alfredo Castro, Antonia Zegers, Alejandro Goic, Nestor Cantillana
PRODUCER: Pablo Larrain, Daniel Marc Dreifuss, Juan de Dios Larrain
DIRECTOR: Pablo Larrain
SCRIPT: Pedro Peirano (play by Antonio Skarmeta)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Sergio Armstrong
EDITOR: Andrea Chignoli, Catalina Marin Duarte
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Estefania Larrain
RUNNING TIME: 118 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Rialto
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 18, 2013