Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Alfredo Castro, Luis Gnecco
Directed by: Pablo Larraín (“Tony Manero”)
Written by: Pablo Peirano (“The Maid”)
With all the junk we’re persuaded into buying on a daily basis through TV commercials, it’s a bit surprising more political campaigns haven’t tried to use the same techniques to earn more votes for their candidates. After all, if a Jack in the Box marketing team can make someone crave a bacon-flavored milkshake, anything is possible, right?
That’s exactly what happened in Chile during the 1988 referendum where citizens voted on whether or not their dictator Augusto Pinochet would continue his presidency for another term. Those who supported Pinochet voted yes. Those who did not voted no. In the Oscar-nominated film “No,” director Pablo Larraín tells the story of the No campaign to boot Pinochet out of office and the young advertising executive hired to lead the cause with some unconventional ideas.
Gael Garcia Bernal (“The Motorcycle Diaries”) stars as René Saavedra, a character you would find in “Mad Men” if the AMC show was set in 1988 Chile. Although René’s has a commercial background (he makes TV spots for products like soft drinks), he’s brought on to kick start the campaign against Pinochet in the only way he knows how: by peddling the idea of a new government to the people as if he was selling them a Coke.
The rules of the political race are simple: each night both sides are given 15 minutes on TV to convince voters they’re right. The 15-minute spots air every night for a month and then people make their decision. For René, it’s more than simply giving Chilean citizens the facts on why they should get rid of Pinochet, it’s also keeping them entertained and making their message stick. If that includes a few cheesy jingles and logos (and even a mime!), so be it.
As leftist René, Garcia Bernal sells democracy like a champion. His passion and creativity are evident and he pushes his merchandise like a snake oil salesman. Garcia Bernal does a great job matching the script’s low-key humor and satirical take on the state of politics in Chile during the era. Larraín mixes the slight comedic elements well with engaging drama and excellent archival footage. As a matter of fact, the whole film looks like it’s make up of archival footage since it was all shot on video tape. As things play out, you might think you’re watching a documentary at times. It’s fascinating, nonetheless, with Garcia Bernal at the helm and Larraín, who captures Chile’s first-ver Oscar nomination in the history of the country, offering up a story most outside of Chile don’t know.