by Charlotte Higgins
Sep 11, 2012 | 302 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Once in a while, a film comes along that gets the blood pumping—a work that seems destined to break out of the arthouse ghetto, that feels, above all, like a fresh vision and voice. No, a ­Chilean film that premiered in the Directors’ Fortnight sidebar at Cannes, takes an unpromising-sounding subject: Chile’s 1988 referendum.

Director Pablo Larraín was born in 1976, three years after Chilean President Salvador Allende was overthrown; Larraín was 12 at the time of the referendum that eventually brought down General Augusto Pinochet. He was, he said, brought up in an affluent household where the assumption was that “Pinochet was the right man for the country because we were economically growing.” It is partly to make sense of what he only obliquely understood as a child—“to finally open this black box”—that compelled him to make No, the third in a trilogy exploring the human cost of the Pinochet dictator­ship.  “Maybe I still don’t understand anything, but I am trying to think about why this happened,” he said.

The main character is Rene, played by the Mexican Gael García Bernal. A smart young advertising executive, he is first seen devising an ad for a soft drink called Free. His next job is a more serious proposition. Clandestinely—and facing intimidation—he leads the team devising the TV campaign for the “no” vote, opposing Pinochet’s rule. One of the most distinctive aspects of the film is its look. Shot with 1980s-style video cameras, it has precisely the grainy quality of the archive footage of the real TV adverts: new and found material merge seamlessly.

What Gael’s character does is key to understanding present-day Chile, said Larraín. “Pinochet imposed a capitalist society in Chile: our character grabbed the tools of capitalism that Pinochet had provided—advertising—to pull him out.” For all the film’s humor and joy, there is an ambivalence at the story’s heart: a hardnosed cynicism in the admen’s tactic of selling the idea of l’alegría, happiness, to the populace, just as if it were a soft drink called Free.

– Charlotte Higgins

Original published in the Guardian. Reprinted with permission.


Chile, 2012, 116m

Directed: Pablo Larraín

Writer: Pedro Peirano

Starring: Gael García Bernal

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