The following is a review I wrote for Thread, a new publication on the Kapiti Coast in New Zealand. Pick up a copy if you’re in the area, or you can visit their blog version here. Hopefully this will be a somewhat regular thing, so support a really cool new thing!
Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín’s No tells the story of René Saavedra (Gael García Bernal), the creative mind behind the scenes of the campaign to democratically oust Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1988. Using his advertising background, Saavedra crafts a campaign that runs against the grain, favouring a seemingly superficial and disposable delivery system that shakes established convention and ushers in a new era in political maneuvering.
The film documents a little seen side of politics, with Larraín employing intimate handheld camera work to create a great sense of urgency and authenticity, as the grainy video look blends seamlessly with the large amount of archival footage culled from the real campaign. Taken with the sharply detailed period dressing, the technique elevates No from the unremarkable reconstruction it could have been to something much more engaging.
García Bernal’s Saavedra is established as an odd choice for running the ‘No’ campaign, but Larraín again shows a knack for getting the most out of a fairly dry script. Saavedra is the man for the job not because of any obvious or outspoken opposition to Pinochet’s regime, but because he is something of a futurist, and understands the importance of boldly stepping forward rather than dwelling on history’s failures. To him, it seems, the campaign is scarcely more important than the new microwave oven; what matters is whether he can sell either to the Chilean people.
Impressively for a story now a quarter of a century old from a part of the world distant from many of us, No remains relevant and familiar. Much of the politics depicted is not dissimilar to what we’ve become accustomed to today, and the film is a reminder that a functioning democratic process can be ripe ground for compelling drama.