Gripping, tense and smart, Pablo Larraín's Oscar-nominated No is as much historical drama as it is a story of personal struggle as well as a cutting political and corporate satire.
Gael Garcia Bernal (The Motorcycle Diaries) is a talented young advertising executive in the run-up to the 1988 Chilean referendum on the political future of the nation. Dictator, General Augusto Pinochet has been in autocratic power for 15 years when René Saavedra (Bernal) is hired by the 'No' campaign. Saavedra spends his days creating bubblegum, mass appeal campaigns for soft drinks and soap operas, while at night he challenges the political campaign to utilise the same tactics, imagery and jingles, to create a forward-thinking, positive 'No'. When they begin to be tailed and intimidated by shady government operatives, the team know they must be doing something right...
Pitched perfectly with its period detail of skateboards, haircuts and a fascination with microwaves, watching No is in a very literal sense like looking through a lens to the past. The film was entirely shot using two original 1980s TV cameras and therefore appears in a very unfamiliar box-like cinematic ratio, with just the right amount of colour distortion. As a result, the drama feels even more at home in its period, as well as blending seamlessly with the original archive TV footage that can so often jar in the cinema.
A strong cast is held together by Bernal who is the young upstart at work, and the doting father at home. In many ways he represents Chile's future potential, played perfectly with a slice of irony and a chip on his shoulder. The political propagandic tactics feel all too familiar, but as events spiral into danger, the spy thriller-esq night scenes are contrasted brilliantly with the ridiculous James Bond style branding of the day job soap star.
Larraín has created a film with a distinctive visual, and an exciting narrative which slowly reels in the viewer. By the end we are left with a strange, poignant emptiness that comes from recognising that although we believe the right side won, it was no less crafted and manipulative as the outgoing regime, and at the end of the day, everybody goes back to their day job. No is a fine piece of work; intriguing, engaging and highly recommended.