Something about Pablo Larrain’s seriously intentioned, based on-fact No (which was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Oscar, losing to Amour) put me in mind of a story I heard a couple of years ago about a guy who went to a Halloween party as “Don Draper, circa 1976.” He wore a pastel leisure suit and a silk shirt with a floppy collar, blue-tinted aviator shades and some ridiculous facial hair.
No is like that because, like Mad Men, it’s a period piece set in the world of advertising and it pays a distracting (and sometimes humorous) amount of attention to period details. It’s based on the true story of how Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet was forced to transfer power to a democratically elected government. In 1987 Pinochet, under pressure from his political opponents, legalized political parties and set a 1988 plebiscite to determine whether he would remain in power. Campaign rules were set forth, the main one being that each side (Pinochet’s opposition coalesced into a coalition) would mount advertising campaigns that would be shown on state-run television for 15 minutes each night.
Rene Saavedra (Gael Garcia Bernal) is the Chilean Draper chosen to run the “No” (anti-Pinochet) campaign. His credentials seem impeccable: His father was a political dissident, his estranged wife, Veronica (Antonia Zegers), is a radical who keeps getting locked up (and beaten up) by the police. Still, when Rene is approached by his socialist friend Urrutia (Luis Gnecco), he initially declines to work on the campaign - it won’t do anything but give Pinochet an illusion of legitimacy.
Still, Rene is intrigued by the opportunity to put his powers of persuasion to work in service of something more substantial than a soft drink commercial. So he takes the job only to be stymied by the ideology of his clients - diverse groups united only by their opposition to Pinochet. They want the campaign to be serious, to expose the human rights atrocities and corruption of the Pinochet regime. But Rene wants to win, and believes he can if he embarks on a state-of-the-art, relatively content-free strategy that employs humor and music - a rainbow logo and an earworming jingle - and all the tricks of broadcast advertising. To this end he gathers a group of collaborators, including his former mentor (Nestor Cantillana) and a contentious cameraman-director (Marcial Tagle).
Most of the movie concerns itself with the mounting of this campaign, though an undercurrent of danger is implied as Rene and his cohorts find themselves shadowed by Pinochet operatives. In a twist that might not quite be historically accurate, Rene’s reptilian boss takes over management of the Yes campaign.
Larrain and cinematographer Sergio Armstrong made the decision to shoot the film on period-accurate video equipment, which allows for the easy insertion of archival footage (some from the actual Yes and No campaigns) but will no doubt disappoint some moviegoers used to the high definition standards of modern cinema. One person’s interesting texture is another’s flat and muddy mess.
No 87 Cast: Gael Garcia Bernal, Antonia Zegers, Alfredo Castro, Luis Gnecco, Pascal Montero, Marcial Tagle, Nestor Cantillana Director: Pablo Larrain Rating: R for language Running time: 118 minutes In Spanish with English subtitles
MovieStyle, Pages 33 on 05/17/2013
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