No (15)

Directed by Pablo Larraín
Starring Alfredo Castro, Antonia Zegers, Gael García Bernal
Screening at FACT till 28th Feb 2013

Reviewed by Redskye

Starring Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal who is best known outside of South America for Motorcycle Diaries (2004) where he played Che Guevara. NO is set in Chile during the 1988 referendum to decide if General Pinochet (Margaret Thatcher’s favourite fascist) will get another ten years as dictator after having had fifteen years already. Over a period of 27 days both sides of the campaign get a fifteen minute TV slot every night to put their side of the campaign. The advertising agency given the task ends up with the boss running the YES campaign to keep Pinochet in power and informing regularly on the NO campaign, while his charismatic young advertising executive René Saavedra, newly returned from exile in Mexico, played by Bernal is given the task of promoting the NO vote’s TV campaign. There are clear class issues expressed throughout this film, René himself lives a noticeably comfortable life with all the modern conveniences at home along with a flash car too.

There are questions raised over who is funding the vote NO side. The film cleverly portrays advertising as propaganda while simultaneously underlining the severe political climate in Pinochet’s Chile, thus none of the issues are glossed over by the film including the disappeared, the censorship, the police brutality and the torture. We’re shown a clip of “USA for Africa” which inspires the idea of a song for the NO campaign along with the propaganda slogan “Happiness is coming!”

The idea of a positive campaign emerges with all kinds of unrealistic and amusing images of Chileans portrayed. As the NO campaign gets into gear it appears to be making a breakthrough then a dirty tricks campaign begins with René experiencing a house break-in, with threats made against his son, later hired thugs wait outside a late evening NO vote campaign meeting poised to steal their video tape, after getting the campaign video tape to the TV station we then see the tape being taken and given to the YES vote to view. This suggests how thoroughly Pinochet’s fascist regime controlled people’s lives and far its influence stretched. René becomes increasingly politicised by the process of promoting the NO vote and we see his wife, a regular protestor, severely beaten up at a protest and arrested with René’s boss using his influence with the fascist regime to get her released from police custody.

The first thing I noticed about this film, which deserves explanation, is the on screen picture quality, or rather the severe lack of picture quality. We’re dragged back a quarter of a century and forced to watch old TV square box (4:3) format and it’s the poorest quality video I’ve endured in years blown up on the big cinema screen showing all of the formats severe shortcomings. NO is filmed on an old low definition video format called U-Matic which was used extensively in news gathering especially in Chile in the 1980s. This annoyed me intensely, however after an hour I began to tolerate it, this is I believe an important element of the film’s production. The 2012 U-Matic originated video and 1988 original Vote NO and Vote YES campaign videos and news video clips do seamlessly merge and this is particularly effective during the NO campaign’s street rally which the police attack and turn into a riot with René’s scenes merging into original 1988 news clips realistically.

As the film progresses the election count night draws closer, tensions rise and we’re shown a deluge of NO and YES propaganda campaign videos and we’re submerged into the 1988 referendum campaign. Pinochet is portrayed as some kind of economic saviour of Chile by the YES campaign, while we’re shown well known Hollywood actors of the time Christopher Reeve (Superman), Jane Fonda and Richard Dreyfuss giving their on screen support to the NO campaign. The first announcement of the result calls in favour of the Pinochet campaign, then we’re shown the final results as 43.04 YES and 54.68 NO.

This is a film you have to stay focused on, unfortunately for me my usual preferred seating location in the middle, middle was crowded out, thus I was forced to sit on the second row from the front, thus having to speed read the Spanish to English translation text required constant head bobbing as I was too close to the screen especially as it appeared far taller than usual wide screen cinema films.

If you have more than a passing interest in politics then you owe it to yourself to see NO, which is running for two weeks at FACT. If you want to see the triumph of hope over oppression then you’ll do yourself an equal favour watching the political battle unfold that defeats fascist dictator General Pinochet.

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