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Film review: NO, from Built For Speed

No

Many films centre on political campaigns including Robert Redford’s fascinating slow burn The Candidate and the overrated George Clooney/ Ryan Gosling spin doctor drama The Ides of March. No, which focuses on a campaign to oust Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s is one of the stranger additions to the political film genre.

In 1988 international pressure forced Augusto Pinochet to make token gestures toward democracy. He agreed to a plebiscite in which people could simply vote “yes” or “no” to him remaining in power for another eight years. It seemed like a sham with Pinochet expected to win easily as his dissenters were presumably (and according to polling) too scared to vote. With 15 minutes of TV time every night to plead their case, a coalition of left-leaning parties felt that they at least had a chance to protest against Pinochet’s brutal regime.  The young advertising hot-shot, Renee Saavedra, whom they recruited to juice up their campaign, however, had greater ambitions for the ad campaign than a bland protest. No depicts the intense and often amusingly weird advertising campaign Saavedra (Gail Garcia Bernal) concocted to try and topple Pinochet.

No provides an impressively gritty street level view of Chilean life during this volatile time.  It also delivers fascinating and at times disturbing insights into covert techniques of political advertising such as the targeting of certain population cohorts target and the use of specific words and images to trigger particular fears and desires in voters.

It’s also amusing to watch Saavedra supplant the dour communist ads (which simply catalogued Pinochet’s record of torture and kidnapping) with upbeat ads that looked more like soft drink commercials.

Less successful is the film’s attempt to construct a personal drama around Saavedra. He seems to be the most oppressed man in the world with Pinochet’s secret police stalking him day and night and pretty much everyone including his estranged wife Veronica (Antonia Zegers) dismissing his ideas as frivolous.   Part of the problem is that Garcia is merely solid rather than captivating in the role of Saavedra.  More memorable is Alfredo Castro as his intense politically-opposed advertising boss Lucho Guzman.

The film adopts an unusual visual style as its shot on U-matic tape which gives it a grainy washed out look. This was done to integrate the film’s look with news footage from the time. This approach seems unnecessary and makes us feel like we’re watching a 3d movie without the glasses.

Technical issues aside, No is a thought-provoking document of a disturbing period in recent history and an amusing look at a bold campaign.

Nick’s rating: Three and a half stars.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Pablo Larraín.

Release date: 21st Feb 2013

Running time:  118 mins.

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