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Posted by martinteller on April 22, 2013

In 1988, bowing to outside pressure, Chile held a referendum — a plebiscite — to decide if the dictator Pinochet would continue his rule for another 8 years.  In the weeks leading up to the vote, each side was allowed 15 minutes of television airtime every night to present their case.  This film presents a fictionalized story of the fictional René Saavedra (Gael García Bernal).  Saavedra is an advertising man, approached by a friend to help produce the “No” TV spots.  Meanwhile, his boss (Alfredo Castro) starts working for the “Yes” campaign in support of Pinochet.

Director Pablo Larraín chose to present the material in low-def video, which serves two purposes.  It gives the film the usual documentary feel, heightening the “you are there” immediacy of it.  It also matches the look between the stuff shot for the film and the archival footage.  I couldn’t tell you which segments of the television spots were real and which were created for the film.  In fact, there was at least one point when I wasn’t sure if we were still watching the campaign commercial… blurring the line between the fantasy of the ad, the “reality” of the movie and the reality of history.

Largely the film is about marketing an ideology against an oppressive regime, and often has a satirical take on it.  Often with political films, my eyes glaze over and I tune out, especially when they involve foreign situations I’m unfamiliar with.  Here the information is presented economically and without didacticism, and more importantly, with humor.  The tone sometimes reminded me of Armando Ianucci creations like “The Thick of It” and In the Loop.  I also appreciated that Bernal — a solid performance as usual — isn’t some Don Draper-esque advertising wunderkind.  He’s not especially great at his job.  His fixation on putting mimes in his ads serves as a sly commentary on both advertising and the Chilean population in general… they’re being fed an attractive spectacle, but there’s no voice to it, no real message.

And Larraín is to be commended for shying away from grandiose dramatic moments.  In a lesser film, the threats to Saavedra and his family would be pumped up with weighty music and “now it’s personal” sentiment.  Here it’s nicely underplayed, trusting the audience to understand the risks Saavedra is taking, and also letting the audience decide why he sticks with it.  We sense that he believes in the cause, but also that he views it as a marketing challenge.  In the end, he is not jubilant… a smile occasionally creeps across his face, but there is uncertainty there, uncertainty about the future of his country.  There is a cynicism in the way it goes back to business as usual, with the “No” campaign becoming another selling point.

Very well done and entertaining.  Rating: Very Good (86)


2 Responses to “No”

  1. JamDenTel said

    I’m gonna go ahead and say this deserved to win Best Foreign Film over AMOUR…AMOUR may have had better acting, but this was more interestingly directed and covered fresher ground.

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