No – Film Review

Most things I know about the truth behind Chile and its recent history is through the movies. The backdrop to the excellent 1982 Jack Lemmon drama, Missing, showed us how a democratically elected leader of the South American country was overthrown in a military coup, backed, we learned by the United States. The coup was in 1973 when Socialist President Salvador Allende was removed from power, replaced by General Augusto Pinochet.

After fifteen years of this brutal military dictatorship, the public wanted a vote on whether Pinochet should stay in power or be removed after an election.  With pressure from the outside – particularly the United States who had changed its mind about the general and his leadership ways – Pinochet was forced to allow a vote.  He never expected to lose; that was the point of him allowing a vote in the first place.

No is a Chilean drama that explores the story of how a TV advertising campaign changed the course of events in a country that had been under the thumb of one of the most brutal leaderships in history.  There were principally two campaigns – the ‘Yes’ campaign, sponsored by the ruling government, and the ‘No’ campaign. In the film we follow the fictional character of Rene (Gael Garcia Bernai) a video filmmaker for an advertising company who spearheads ‘No’ while his boss manages the ‘Yes.’

We long to get rid of Pinochet,” Rene is told as he works on promotional material that often resembles a slick, frothy and happy-faced Coca-Cola commercial complete with sing-a-long jingles more than a serious political ad.  Rene wants the ‘No’ ads to appeal to both young and old, though he faces opposition from those he is working for who often find his commercials and ideas nothing short of insulting, and yet… they work.

There’s a sense of fascination to much of the film as we see how the two sides think and work out how best to win the hearts and minds of the people.  There’s a particularly chilling moment when government members sit around discussing how to soften the dictator’s public persona for television.  They talk of having Pinochet out of uniform and looking like a mere civilian, illustrating how the country will be moving on from the oppression of the might of the military to a new and friendlier Chile, while all the time having no intention of changing a thing.

There’s a continual sense of urgency to No made prominent throughout by the way the film has been recorded.  Shot with a TV ratio of 1:33 on low-definition video, No often looks like scenes from a documentary made all the more effective when real-life news footage is incorporated and you can’t see the join.

But the film has a downside.  Despite its critical success around the world, No came under fire on its home-turf in Chile with criticisms of how the whole affair has been simplified.   No, the critics state, makes it look as though the TV ads were the sole reason for the changing of Chilean minds, when, in fact, the grass-roots voter registration effort was of equal importance, a point all but ignored by the movie-makers.  It’s a valid criticism and one that should be taken into account when watching the film, but that doesn’t take away the power and importance of the film’s overall message.  To most of us in the outside world, we knew that in 1973 a coup took place in Chile, but until Missing was made, many didn’t know how or why.  We also knew that in 1988 General Pinochet’s rule was overthrown, but we didn’t know how it was done until No was made.

The campaign ran on TV for twenty-seven nights where each side had fifteen minutes of air-time to present its point of view.  Maybe some heroes of the story have been underplayed or not mentioned at all, but that’s not what’s important here.  The story as presented is still one of fascination, and the real truth is this; without this film most of us in the outside world would have never known what had happened.  You should make a point of seeing No.

MPAA Rating: R     Length: 110 minutes       Overall Rating: 8 (out of 10)

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