8th February 2013
Gael García Bernal
26th February 2013
We don't claim to be history buffs here so a two hour long film about a key moment in Chile's history in 1988 wasn't top of our viewing list. Lots of more earth-shattering stuff was happening in 1988. I started secondary school. Which pretty much precludes any knowledge of anything going on outside of a world inhabited by bullies, gangs and a very strong desire to be somewhere else. WIthout really knowing where else I wanted to be. Strangely enough, these are all key themes in Larraín's talky, intelligent, visually difficult to watch film. See, every now and again there is a point to these rambling introductions.
To get the visual thing out of the way first, No is filmed in Academy Ratio (4:3) on genuine 1988 cameras. I think that's Academy Ratio anyway, please don't write in with death threats if it isn't. The point that the majority will notice is that it looks like you're watching a TV. Despite being at the cinema. The 1988 camera part means the film has a very stark look with much light flaring. It isn't the easiest to watch and some people will probably have difficulty with it, thought probably less so once it gets to DVD (where it will likely find its home). This didn't trouble me greatly but I was squinting from time to time and it makes it difficult to sell this as a cinema experience. The upside is that it enables the filmmakers to seamlessly blend archive footage with the new footage, meaning you're very easily sucked into the 1988 world that Bernal inhabits. That he can still look superbly cool in faded denim, white trainers and brown leather jackets is infuriating. Though occasionally you are waiting for him to dive into a DeLorean and head for 88 miles per hour.
The film tells the story of the 1988 plebiscite that the Chilean government was pressed into holding on the future of the country, and more specifically on the future of one Augusto Pinochet. Without getting into the politics too deeply, having pushed through one plebiscite in 1980 to legitimise his regime, Pinochet was confident enough to hold another in order to cement his power and prove to the American government that he was the people's choice. The plebiscite was hamstrung from the outset, each side (Yes to keep him, No to get rid of him) having just 15 minutes per day in an obscure time slot to advertise their argument. This of course overlooked the minor fact that the TV was state run so effectively the good General had a little more time on his side than that.
Bernal's character is dragged in from his day job selling fizzy pop to the masses by the No camp to give their campaign some much needed fizz of its own. That his boss is playing for the opposition puts his character Saavedra in a somewhat awkward spot. But this is the crux of the movie. Chile was an out and out dictatorship in the usual sense, Pinochet had made a lot of people fantastically wealthy by embracing the free-market for all he was worth. Rather than the rich being cronies, the military or relatives, they were also ordinary people. Ordinary people who did not want a return to the socialism that had left them poor in the first place.
The film brilliantly captures this simmering unease. People aren't directly threatened, they see cars full of people occasionally following them, they see images of the past and they are unable to see exactly where a No would get them in the vote. There is violence and many people have had relatives disappear but the majority (of people who would vote) are very much distracted by their new microwaves. Hence, Saavedra pushes his agenda for positive advertising of where a No vote would lead Chile rather than dwelling on the past. That the strategy is a success is no spoiler, the route to the final vote is thrilling enough. Not thrilling in the way Argo is thrilling, but you are never entirely confortable that something nasty isn't about to happen and it's only because the military accepted the No vote that something nasty didn't happen.
It seems unlikely that this is going to find a massive audience at the cinema (though the showing I went to was packed) but it should be watched on DVD and download as it's a wonderful example of history as cinema.