At this year’s Academy Awards, Oscar nominations went to two films that depicted historical and political crises in which triumph was brought about by both the nations involved and by the filmmakers. Argo won for Best Picture, inspired praise for director Ben Affleck, and was seen by huge crowds in North America. The other was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. It did not win (beat out by Amour), and I doubt whether any but a small fraction of North Americans saw it at all.
That second film was an offering from Chile called No. In October 1988, succumbing to great international pressure, Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet went forward with a “plebiscite,” a referendum that gave the nation of Chile the chance to vote on whether or not Pinochet should continue on as president. With the same sort of fictionalized historical movie-making as Argo, No stars the talented Gael Garcia Bernal as René, a fictional Chilean advertising executive who helps build an ad campaign to convince Chileans to get out the vote—and to vote no.
While René considers and creates advertising techniques for the end of a repressive and violent era, he also continues to work on ads for microwaves and soap operas. He and his co-conspirators have their hands full working on behalf of 17 different political groups who are together allowed one 15-minute television spot each day for 30 days. René himself prefers talking advertising over politics, but things become more and more personal as fears of reprisal from the Pinochet regime seem more likely.
No seamlessly integrates real footage of Pinochet and the advertising from both the “yes” and the “no” campaigns into its frames; it successfully brings viewers back to the 1980s in all its big-haired glory. (If movies shot with handheld cameras leave you a bit seasick, you might want to say no to this one.)
The story brings to light the way a repressive government was overthrown without violence and bloodshed. And while the return of democracy to Chile should probably be credited more to those who worked for change and for peace and for voter registration, the advertising campaign did draw people out to the polls.
Viewers should be aware that No is rated R for the liberal use of offensive language, at least in the English subtitles—I can’t vouch for the original Spanish. In spite of that, No, now available on disc, was both powerful and entertaining enough to make me want to know more about the history of Chile. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)