Cornerhouse LiveWire Young Film Critic James Martin reviews No…
It isn’t all that long ago that Pinochet’s dictatorship finally crumbled, paving the way for the first few sparks of hope that democracy and freedom from repression might finally break its way through. No, the new Chilean film from Pablo Larraín, completes his trilogy of Pinochet-era movies (the first two being the formidable Tony Manero and Post Mortem).
No is set in 1988, when a referendum was finally taking place in Chile, the first nationwide vote that could potentially topple Pinochet and his regime. It was a time of suspicion and fear. Many believed that the vote could not actually work, that it would be rigged, that it would be too much to hope for a definite resolution to their suffering.
Told from the point of view of René, an advertising executive set to become one of the leading figures behind the No campaign for Pinochet’s opposition, the film shows (using a lot of archive footage, arguably making for the most interesting viewing) how the world of advertising at this critical period in time thought out of the box in order to bring about the regime’s demise.
It is shot like a 1980’s video, the kind of washed-out colour palette of one of René’s advertisements. It is an inspired idea, and apart from odd moments where the sunlight bleaches the characters’ faces from view (which I found quite irritating) – it works wonderfully. The acting too, is of the highest order, headed by a cool Gael García Bernal as René, and his trusty skateboard.
The period detail is meticulous, and the real-life footage is blended seamlessly into the narrative, lending it a great feeling of authenticity. Many have compared this film to the TV series Mad Men and there are certainly parallels, in the humour and tone of the film. Those humorous moments, considering how ridiculous the advertising strategy seemed at first, are integral to how the film works and the filmmaker should have made more of them. Similarly, this critical period in time was a scary and dangerous one for those working for the opposition, and indeed, there are scenes here where the well-being of the protagonists is clearly threatened; yet they feel rushed and tagged-on, and thus the tension that this film so dearly needs never really takes off. I never felt that the lives of the individuals or their loved ones were in any real danger, because of the clichéd and rushed way those tense moments were handled. As a result, the film feels a little too long and quite repetitive in places.
But there is much to enjoy here, and it remains a thoroughly decent and interesting piece of cinema. There are far more moving and profound Chilean movies out there about Pinochet’s dictatorship and the effects it has had (and continues to have) on people’s lives, I heartily recommend the astonishing documentary Nostalgia for the Light for those who haven’t seen it; but nevertheless, this is an entertaining and admirably simple film that tackles important issues with panache.
No continues to screen at Cornerhouse. Watch the trailer and book your tickets here.