Politics makes for strange bedfellows in the Chilean film No, directed by Pablo Larraín. A couple of Larraín’s previous films (Tony Manaro and Post Mortem) featured flawed characters caught up in the upheaval of Chilean society in the 1970s. Tony Manaro in particular saw the dichotomy of a serial killer obsessed with Saturday Night Fever who seems normal when compared to corrupt people in the government.
No finds Larraín still exploring the ramifications of the Pinochet dictatorship. Remember that the former elected leader Socialist Salvador Allende was overthrown by a military coup on September 11, 1973. By the end of that day Allende was dead and Pinochet in power. In No the winds of change are in the air and a national referendum is held in 1988 to decide if Pinochet will stay in office. The people will vote on a ballot that has two choices - yes or no.
Enter young brash ad executive René (Gael Garcia Bernal) who’s into marketing and selling people stuff like microwave ovens using his seductive version of advertising imagery like mimes and happy people in bright kitchens. While Bernal has clout at his conservative ad agency and may even be up for a big promotion he sides with the oppressed people of Chile and agrees to work for the No campaign creating ads for their guaranteed television time. But the odds are stacked against the No movement, with the opposition outspending them 30-to-1 not to mention that members of the No campaign are being followed by the Chilean equivalent of G-men.
“It was a time when there were so many questions that demanded answers,” Larraín tells Free Press Houston in a phone interview. “I make movies that try to present these ideas and answers.” Amazingly 97-percent of registered voters showed up at the polls for that 1988 plebiscite. Imagine that since we live in a country where even the Presidential elections have less than a 60-percent turnout. Bernal’s character is a composite of two real life ad execs, Jose Manuel Salcedo and Enrique Garcia (both of whom have cameos in No). “Bernal’s character is a mystery as to what he’s thinking,” notes Larraín.
Also unique is the look of No. Larraín purposely gave the film an ‘80s video feel by shooting the entire film with old school analog U-matic equipment originally used for shooting on ¾-inch tape. “We hired a company that bought up 20 U-matic cameras. Out of that they assembled four that we used to shoot the film,” explains Larraín. “It gave us a retro video look that we then intercut seamlessly with actual footage and campaign commercials from 1988.” Thus No was shot with cameras that were sending a 480p signal into a digital drive that was then downloaded to computers for editing. “It was difficult but we made every frame connect,” assures Larraín. No opens at the River Oaks Three this weekend.
- Michael Bergeron