In 1988, fifteen years after a western-backed coup-d’état of September 11, 1973, those same western powers put pressure on the Pinochet government to hold a plebiscite. [Wikipedia tells a slightly different story.] In the intervening years, the right-wing dictatorship was responsible for massive human rights violations for disappearances, assassinations, torture, political imprisonment, harassment, and, of course, censorship. The plebiscite had a single question on the ballot: Will Pinochet remain in office for a further eight years, Yes or No? To give the opposition a fighting chance, and themselves a veil of legitimacy, each side was given fifteen minutes of airtime for twenty-seven days before the vote. That doesn’t include the remaining 23.5 hours for state-run (aka Pinochet-run) television news to frame the story how they’d like. Then there’s the justifiable belief that the whole thing might be rigged.
No (2012), directed by Pablo Larraín, covers the campaign-side of this plebiscite, with an emphasis on the No campaign. The No campaign is a loose coalition of anti-Pinochet activists. This means communistsSocialists, Christian Democrats, Humanists, Radicals, and others who believe themselves to be experts in political discourse. But José Tomás (Luis Gnecco) understands that they need some help. He approaches family friend, René Saavedra (Gael García Bernal), an ad producer for a private PR firm, to come in and give some opinions. This is something of a problem not only because Chile is a dictatorship with a history of harassing or killing its opponents, but René’s boss, Lucho Guzmán (Alfredo Castro), is a dedicated right-wing [fascist] that thinks everyone is a communist who doesn’t support the regime. René is a rich, successful man with a lot to lose, but his family and friends were/are activists with whom he clearly sympathizes. He does join the No campaign and uses his marketing techniques to break out of the negative, antagonistic campaign envisioned. When he joins the group, they want to use their fifteen minutes to raise awareness be heard. He wants to win.
If you like political movies of the procedural king—like Wag the Dog (1997), Primary Colors (1998), or (non-fictionally) The War Room (1993)—this will be right up your alley. I do and it was. Years before the people behind Clinton’s 1992 campaign turned US politics into a media spin game with marketing skills prized at or above policy thinking, the No campaign used these same techniques with life and death on the line. It’s not quite as calculated, as presented in the film, but it’s in the same family of winning people over with sentiments rather than facts. As Lucho says, “Happiness…it’s unbeatable.” Now, if you don’t speak Spanish, then it’s going to be rather like a comic book where you read as much as you see. What you see is some weirdly poor video quality.
The camera choice is pointless. It looks like a home movie, but is filmed like an indie drama. It’s obvious that there is an attempt at some subliminal meaning, trying to make it feel more real by shooting in video. But it’s the late 1980’s and they had film then. If they’d just used clean film or up-to-date digital cameras, we could watch the drama unfold rather than enough solar flares to cause mild blindness. But again, the camera work is hand-held and intimate, but without any indication of this being found footage. In fact, a very similar movie in its docu-drama, realist content is Bloody Sunday (2002). It’s a great movie, shot in widescreen on 16mm but looks better than No. I find the choice to be a distraction. Further, if they used cleaner images, the contrast with archival footage would have made the movie more honest in a way.
Still, the subject matter is something that I’m not very familiar with and I love when movies fill in those blind spots for me.
Why do these mimes keep creeping into these ads?