MIFF 2012: “NO” might be a hard sell, but is definite YES material
Directed by Pablo Larraín
Written by Pedro Peirano
Earlier this year, a pro-Pinochet documentary triggered off clashes at a screening in Santiago, Chile, and prompted calls for the film to be banned. But the Piñera administration declared its hands tied, and rightfully so. Even though the Pinochet regime came to an end in 1990, it is sobering to appreciate the strength of Chile’s current democracy considering the nearly two decades of dictatorship the country suffered at his hands, during which any form of dissent was not taken to kindly; a period in its own history that the Latin American nation still finds especially sensitive.
With his fourth feature, and presumably the final film in what is ostensibly his Pinochet trilogy, Pablo Larrain tells the story of how the dictator’s stranglehold was finally released when, in 1987, Pinochet called for a plebiscite (or a referendum): a yes or no vote in which the public were given the opportunity to decide the fate of the Pinochet government and Chile’s future. While free elections would have been preferred, a coalition of 14 opposing parties – spearheaded by the Socialists and Christian Democrats amongst others – agreed to play and beat the regime at its own game of smoke and mirrors. In an unprecedented move, both camps were afforded 15 minutes of nightly television airtime for the duration of the campaign, a source of great suspicion for those convinced that this seeming act of fairness was simply a ploy. NO centres on René Saavedra (Gael García Bernal in a role that capitalises on his soulful affability), an adman approached by the coalition to develop a “No” campaign. Rene is a born salesman and an idealist from the outset, a genuine talent who nonetheless spends his time spouting rehearsed ad-speak and displaying a humorous kind of conviction in his ideas, good or not. He is Don Draper without the suit and intimidating air of cool, and he is certainly no flake, as evidenced when his insistence on a positive and optimistic “No” campaign strikes many not only as a losing strategy, but as a belittle of the suffering of the Chilean people and a denial of the country’s many negatives. It doesn’t help, either, that René’s boss, Lucho Guzmán (Alfredo Castro), is a “Yes” man who ends up being his most direct opponent.