No (Pablo Larraín, 2012)

Written by Luis M. García-Mainar. Posted in CCSBlog

No 2012 filmThe film centres on the No campaign during the 1989 plebiscite that would eventually put an end to Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile. Its main story is the dilemma faced by the groups who supported the No: whether to remind Chileans of the murder and torture used by Pinochet’s regime to impose its rule, or show how different the country could be once the dictator were out of their way. This reflected the different attitudes of the two generations who participated in the campaign: the older generation had suffered the repression and still remembered the violence and the death of friends or relatives, while the younger one, represented by Gael García Bernal’s ad exec character, preferred to look ahead and was somewhat ready to forget the past if it meant a return to democracy. In the end, the brighter view of advertising executives prevailed and proved right in persuading Chileans to vote against the dictator. Watching No from Spain, a country which in the 1970s faced a similar quandary and solved it in the same way, one cannot miss the parallelism. In both countries the desire for social change and modernisation led to democracy while the elites that had ruled during both dictatorships remained in place. In Spain the result was a democratic state that still held profoundly anti-democratic mores underneath, where abuse of power, lying and corruption continued to govern politics and, more importantly, extended to every corner of social life. The consequences are still evident today. That a film with such obvious political credentials as No has chosen such a nostalgic look is intriguing. Shot on U-matic videotape that produces a grainy look meant to imitate late 1980s television footage, the film has all the quotidian glamour that Larraín’s previous Tony Manero or Post-mortem lacked. One wonders if these colourful views of the past support a national narrative about the victory of human rights over tyranny, or suggest to Chileans, and Spaniards, that historical change is more than an advertising campaign.

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#1 Celestino Deleyto 2013-04-06 12:06
Beyond its faux documentary look, the political ambivalence of the film rests on García Bernal's enigmatic performance, and the ambiguity of his political position, which is why the gradual turn to melodrama as the campaign develops, particularly the threats to his son Simón, seemed a little out of place. What is interesting about the film, on the other hand, is the uncertain boundary between commitment to political ideals and advertising as business.
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