After two claustrophobic, consistently harrowing close-ups of life in a repressed Chile under the Pinochet regime, from its early days in Post Mortem to its poisonous apex in the earlier Tony Manero, director Pablo Larraín moves his focus to the final days of the status quo in No. It's the true story of the political referendum that ended the military dictatorship and put Chile in the path to democracy in 1988.

     A brighter, cheerier film than its predecessors, and one that takes as its basis a stage play by renowned writer Antonio Skármeta where Tony Manero and Post Mortem were original scripts, No nevertheless is of a piece with them, forming an unplanned trilogy of sorts in its dovetailing of the private and political spheres through the eyes of someone who attemps, unsuccessfully, to not get too involved in what is going on around him. In this case, it's advertising whizkid René Saavedra (Gael García Bernal), whose ability to sell microwaves and sodas to the prospering Chilean middle-class (opening in the process a rift with his politically active ex-wife) ends up being the precise ingredient that will make him accept the job of running the anti-Pinochet political broadcasts.

     No is simultaneously a time capsule of a moment in history where marketing played a decisive role in awakening a political conscience, and a political film that uncovers how all politics has become a discipline of marketing, smartly weaving the realisation that it's all a question of supply and demand marketing is perfectly poised to manipulate. Mr. Larraín is so aware of this that the film's own style and casting reflect it: the Mexican heartthrob Mr. Bernal is a pitch-perfect choice to play René, as is that of the director's regular accomplice Alfredo Castro playing René's boss Lucho Guzmán, a man who has grown accustomed to dancing with the devil; and by shooting in the now-discontinued U-Matic broadcast video format, he can match the original period footage to the dramatic reconstruction of the events while giving it a period feel and patina that would otherwise be absent.

     At its heart, No is the tale of a man's political awakening - excellently rendered by Mr. Bernal, far too often cornered by his good looks when he is a better actor than that - being presented as the symbolism of a country's awakening to democracy, expertly realised by a director who has been growing in stature and confidence with each new project.

Cast: Gael García Bernal, Alfredo Castro, Luis Gnecco, Néstor Cantillana, Antonia Zegers, Marcial Tagle, Pascal Montero, Jaime Vadell
Director: Pablo Larraín
Screenplay: Pedro Peirano, from the stage play by Antonio Skármeta, El Plebiscito
Cinematography: Sergio Armstrong  (colour)
Music: Carlos Cabezas
Designer: Estefanía Larraín
Costumes: Francisca Román
Editor: Andrea Chignoli
Producers: Juan de Díos Larraín, Daniel Dreifuss (Participant Media in association with Funny Balloons and Fabula, in co-production with Canana Films)
Chile/USA/France/Mexico, 2012, 118 minutes

Screened: distributor advance press screening, Cinema City Classic Alvalade 4, Lisbon, April 12th 2013


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