Director: Pablo Larrain
Starring: Gael García Bernal, Antonia Zegers, Alfredo Castro
PABLO Larrain’s excellent drama No thoroughly deserved its recent Oscar nomination in the category of best foreign language film.
In a back room often used for public meetings at Derby’s QUAD, watching a film shot in low definition, almost square aspect ration, this felt at first more like I was about to see someone’s home movie.
However, while Larrain’s decision to mirror the style of filming that would have been used at the time his film is set may lessen its commercial appeal, it does allows his material to mesh quite seamlessly with real footage from the era.
The era in question is Chile in 1988, when dictator General Pinochet is pressured by his American allies into holding a referendum on his own presidency.
His 15-year regime has been characterized by its disregard for human rights, murders, imprisonments, exiles and “desaparecidos” - the disappearance of those who have questioned his rule.
The referendum, or plebiscite, is split into a YES campaign to keep Pinochet in power and a NO campaign which hopes to remove him, and each are given 15 minutes of television time each night.
The latter, made up of a coalition of 16 political parties who all have different issues, approach brash young advertising executive René Saavedra (Gael Garcia Bernal) to spearhead their campaign.
Rene, the son of an exile, is a closer, a seducer of clients with his soft voice and good looks.
He oozes sincerity in setting up presentations, whether its a TV campaign for the latest soft drink or the most important event in the life of his country.
Meanwhile, in a quirk of fate, Rene’s boss, Lucho Guzman (Alfredo Castro) is dragooned by the Pinochet government to take on the YES campaign.
Rene has bold ideas for the NO campaign, which involve doing away with the moving yet harrowingly depressing images of tanks rolling into streets, civilians being shot and scenes of cruelty and torture, and replacing them with happy images of what Chile could be like without Pinochet.
As Larraín says: “That’s why they won. They didn’t attack Pinochet. They just promised a better and nicer future.”
However, Rene is beset by problems, from the fact that his estranged wife Verónica (Antonia Zegers) is a radical activist who believes the plebiscite is a fraud and belittles his involvement, to his house and family being targeted by Pinochet’s goons.
The story is well told, and well acted, with Bernal as ever proving to be as captivating a screen presence as he was in the likes of the Motorcycle Diaries, Y tu Mamá También and Amores Perros.
Unfortunately, the film’s run at QUAD has ended now, and you may struggle to find anywhere showing this film, but if you can track it down, it is well worth a watch.
Star rating: 4/5.