Director Pablo Larrain’s latest work ‘No!’ documents the events immediately preceding the landmark 1988 Chilean plebiscite, which would ultimately lead to the first democratically elected Chilean government in 17 years. The referendum called for the people of Chile to mandate their incumbent leader, Augusto Pinochet with a further 10 years in office, or remove him from power. Larrain offers a vision of the power and potential of thoughtful political marketing, and indicates absolutely that intelligent and astute media communication can infect the imaginations of the many, to the effect of toppling even the most secure of dictators.
In 1987, political advertising was made legal in Chile in order to facilitate a ‘no’ campaign, opposing the continuation of Pinochet’s presidency. Larrain’s drama focuses on the effect of political advertising, and the influence of a slick, young, media type: Rene Saavedra, who works at creating films and promotional material for the ‘no’ campaign. Rene, played by Gael Garcia Bernal of The Motorcycle Diaries, conceives of a campaign quite unlike anything his political peers and creative contemporaries would approve. The ‘no’ campaign is consequently an upbeat, colourful, optimistic affair, articulated in the phrase: ‘joy is coming’. Rene’s enthusiasm for a positive message is not immediately shared by those in the ‘no’ camp, who view his efforts to sell the campaign as he would sell any product, with distaste and occasional disbelief. Rene’s mantra is that misery does not sell, and that a victory against Pinochet in the referendum can only come with a victory of communication.
‘No!’ sees an impressive performance not only from Bernal, but also from Alfredo Castro, who is cast as Rene’s rakish, mercenary, boss – Lucho Guzman. Guzman works for the ‘yes’ campaign, but maintains a close personal and professional relationship with Rene; working together on commercial projects aside from their separate, creative commitments to the opposing sides of the referendum. Larrain’s film develops as a battle between two non-partisans, fighting one another across a political divide, as colleagues. Rene emerges as the successful party with the victory of the ‘no’ campaign, and the drama ends as it began, in a professional consultation between Guzman, Rene, and a client.
Shot inimitably on Latin-American camera equipment from 1988, scenes from Larrain’s film and actual footage of the political drama from 1988 blend seamlessly together. ‘No!’ was one of the most talked-about films at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012, winning the Art Cinema Award and top prize in the directors fortnight.
‘No!’ is released in the UK on the 8th of February, and will be showing at the GTF, Glasgow.