It’s 1988 and military dictator Augusto Pinochet calls for a referendum to decide his permanence in power, a Yes/No plebiscite that would extend his rule another eight years. A young advertising executive – René Saavedra, played by Gael Garcia Bernal – is chosen to head the opposition’s campaign.
Preceded by Tony Manero and Post Mortem, No completes director Pablo Larrain’s loose trilogy about life under the Chilean dictator. Albeit conceived in strong historical and socio-political context; this story is a simple tale centered on the young advertising executive.
In this homage to Chilean history, both sides are attempting to secure voters by fighting it out via 30-minute spots on TV — 15- minutes for the “Yes” camp and 15-minutes for “No”.
An agency that employs René has been commissioned to design a series of ads for the Government. Conflicts of interest arise when René exercises his liberty as a freelancer in contra — to formulate the opposition’s campaign.
The story begins with a cold open showing creative grit — René is previewing a new commercial with clients in the beverage industry. Within the first few minutes, we find out who he really is — a shrewd and introspective creative director, highly sought after in the business — someone who believes in unorthodox methods and selling the notion of freedom.
The film drifts through a climate of skepticism surrounding the legitimacy of Pinochet’s reign, residual fears evolved from the red scare, and reservations about United States after their involvement in the Chilean Coup of 1973. Accusations and recriminations are spewed in hushed, civil tones. Disparity in views are documented in raw, unfiltered strides.
In a sequence depicting René’s journey home on a skateboard, an audacious visual-aural symphony amplifies his transformation, and the situation about to unfold. The film charts two narrative blueprints juxtaposed next to each other: the No campaign from inception to post-referendum, and René’s democratic ideology and personal struggles. Against the backdrop of fierce competition between both camps, his middle-class existence as a single father still harboring feelings for the ex-wife comes into close, thematic focus.
Public opinion becomes cultural movement and things begin to swing in favor of No’s provocative campaign, which hints at political activism cloaked in concepts such as love, happiness and freedom. Pinochet’s lackeys begin a series of menacing threats that hover in dangerous, unpredictable shadows.
Shot with a 1983 U-matic video camera and presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio, the colors run, forming RGB shadows and ghosts, blurring everything just enough to remind us that the changes of that era were not only political, but cultural and technological. The format also implies a cautionary facet to this film — concerns with lasting effects of commercials, suggesting how a simple medium and viral marketing can radically influence political views of the masses.
Things comes to a hauntingly ironic conclusion, but No is a simple film that burns with quiet ferocity. Pablo Larrain displays talent in using visual moods, incisive dialog and dramatic scores; giving shape to the social atmosphere in 1980s Chile — rife with unquenchable thirst for liberty and change, yet pensive and scarred by a violent past.
Director: Pablo Larraín
Cinematographer: Sergio Armstrong
Editor: Andrea Chignoli
Writer: Pedro Peirano
(based on the play El Plebiscito by Antonio Skármeta)
Actors: Gael García Bernal
Music: Carlos Cabezas