Movie Review: No
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Director: Pablo Larraín
Screenwriter: Pedro Peirano
Cast: Gael García Bernal, Alfredo Castro, Luis Gnecco, Antonia Zegers
Sony Pictures Classics
Rated PG-13 | 118 Minutes
Release Date: April 19, 2013

Based on the unpublished play El Plebiscito by Antonio Skármeta, No stars Gael García Bernal as René Saavedra, a young advertising executive working in Chile in the late 1980s.

After fifteen years of brutal military dictatorship, the people of Chile are asked to vote in the national plebiscite of 1988 on whether General Augusto Pinochet should stay in power for another eight years (YES) or if there should be an open democratic presidential election the next year (NO).

René is approached by the “No” campaign committee to consult on their proposed advertising for the upcoming vote. Behind the back of his politically conservative boss, Lucho (Alfredo Castro), René agrees to head the committee’s advertising department only to find the “No” campaign’s strategy consists of a dourly unappealing litany of the regime’s abuses.

Compelled by his own loathing of Pinochet’s tyranny, René proposes they take a lighthearted, upbeat approach. By using strategies forged in the world of commercial advertising and marketing, the new advertisements will stress abstract concepts like “happiness,” creating upbeat films and promotional material, in the hope it will encourage the Chilean public to vote ‘No.’

Meanwhile, the boss of his advertising agency is busy working on the ‘Yes’ campaign. The two political groups will battle it out on television, over the course of 27 nights, in which each side had 15 minutes per night of airtime to present its point of view to the public.

Directed by Pablo Larraín (Post Mortem) and written by Pedro Peirano (Gatos viejos), No has an ’80s video aesthetic courtesy of a couple rebuilt vintage Sony U-Matic video cameras. Larraín’s attention to period detail, combined with real archival footage and the original (hilarious) advertisements gives the film an authenticity and most docu-dramas are lacking.

No is a kind of found-footage political drama – like The Blair Witch Project with Augusto Pinochet. When projected, the video images are amplified – visible scan lines and visual artifacts are abundant. It’s a no-frills documentation of the events that feels as if it were haphazardly captured on video by one of the grassroots campaign’s volunteers.

For a period political drama about tyranny, No is a relatively buoyant, humorous affair. It’s like Argo meets Mad Men – showing creative advertising execs navigate censors and the dictatorship’s unyielding control of the airwaves and pitching big concepts like “happiness” with commercials that feel like vintage Coca-Cola ads.

Gael García Bernal turns in another impressive performance further showcasing the actor’s abilities, while Larrain overcomes the somewhat gimmicky approach to No by making it an accurate (albeit simplified) document of the ’80s. No is a relevant, entertaining film that chronicles the moment that Chilean political activism turned into marketing.

No was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar at the 85th Academy Awards. Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics, No is currently in theaters and will hit DVD and Blu-Ray on June 25, 2013.


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