No is the final chapter in Pablo Larraín’s trilogy of films about Chilean life under the 15 year reign of dictator Augusto Pinochet. Based on true events, the film takes place in Santiago in 1988, where skateboards and fluoro are cool, but many turn a blind eye to the starvation and genocide of thousands.
Due to international pressure, a referendum was proposed in 1988 that would allow Chileans to vote either “yes” or “no” to keep Pinochet in power. Each side was given 15 minutes of television airtime a day in the weeks leading up to the vote, to argue their side to the public.
With little prior knowledge regarding this dark time in Chilean history, I was fearful that I wouldn’t understand what was happening. But even with the Spanish language and subtitles, I was easily able to follow the film, thanks to the cleverly sculptured plot and title cards at the film’s beginning that brief us with a short history of events.
The film centres on an advertising wiz-kid and single dad René Saavedra (portrayed by Mexico’s most celebrated actor, the insanely handsome Gael García Bernal) who is asked to create the ads for the “No” side of the campaign.
René’s approach to creating the advertisements is innovative. Instead of solely focusing on the negative aspects of Pinochet’s reign, he transforms the idea of “No” into a euphorically positive ideology. René’s boss at his advertising firm, Lucho Guzmán (Alfredo Castro), ironically happens to be a senior figure on Pinochet’s advisory council. The relationship between the two men is tested when they are forced to fight against each other for what they believe is the right thing.
Bernal is undoubtedly fantastic as René. He depicts the protagonist as a normal man with hopes and dreams for a better future with a brilliant mind and a humanist heart. The camera so often lingers on his profile allowing the audience to study his expressions, and enabling us to feel what he feels.
Keeping with the tone of the 80s, the camera used to shoot was of a low digital quality, and the grainy sepia drenched look of the frames give the film a documentary type feel. The light often overexposes the frame leaving the entire screen covered with a warm illumination, perhaps symbolic of the radiant prospect of hope that will come with Chile’s freedom.
No was nominated for Best Foreign Language film at this year’s Academy Awards, and would have no doubt won if weren’t for Michael Haneke’s masterpiece Amour. I left No feeling uplifted by the power of the people and inspired by the universal messages of hope and struggle for freedom. No is a truly moving, witty, and beautiful film that needs to be seen and celebrated.
This review was published on the website for SYN Radio Reviews.