Powerful, well-told 'No' is an easy sell
05:00 AM, Feb 14, 2013
For anyone fascinated by the political process and the powers of persuasive advertising, No is a resounding yes.
A well-told, fact-based drama, No (* * * ½ out of four; rated R; opening Friday in select cities) takes an intricate look at the use of savvy advertising in the pitched campaign that unseated Chilean military dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet in 1988, after 15 years in office.
Because of international pressure, Pinochet was forced to call a plebiscite on his presidency. Chilean citizens were given a simple binary choice: “Yes” to allow Pinochet to remain in office for eight more years or “no” to allow someone else to take charge.
Pinochet controlled the media and assumed his re-election was a shoo-in. He allowed the opposition composed of a coalition of parties 15 minutes daily to air dissenting views. What the mostly leftist opposing forces initially focused on were the dictator’s abuses, fashioning bleak montages of police brutality, lists of disappeared detainees and political executions.
Enter René Saavedra (Gael García Bernal), a brash young adman, and the “No” campaign takes a less grim focus. His slogan: “Chile, happiness is coming.”
Saavedra doesn’t see the value of TV spots that highlight suffering. He prefers to emphasize the sense of freedom that will come if Pinochet is overthrown. Despite minimal resources and intimidation by the tyrant’s minions, he creates almost inanely sunny commercials to peddle democracy.
One of the foreign-language-film Oscar nominees, this slyly ironic, illuminating and absorbing account by Chilean director Pablo Larraín brings the complexity of political elections into sharp focus.
The real commercials used in 1988 are interwoven with behind-the-scenes discussions created for the movie. The film nimbly intersperses archival footage, including recorded endorsements for the “No” movement by American celebrities such as Christopher Reeve, Jane Fonda and Richard Dreyfuss.
By focusing on the advertising minds behind the TV commercials, the film almost casually depicts the oppressive aspects of Pinochet’s regime. It also takes in stride a startling achievement: the public triumphantly rising up against a despot and fighting what was originally regarded as a fixed election.
Bernal gives a wonderfully low-key performance as Saavedra, a creative type who is initially apolitical but is drawn to the “No” campaign to brainstorm the most effective ways to win hearts and minds.
An adman first and foremost, Saavedra invigorates the Chilean people who have been mired in pessimistic thinking. When he’s brought in, the vast numbers of people who don’t plan to vote (72%) reveal the depth of disillusionment. Saavedra’s first task, therefore, is to persuade the disenfranchised to participate and express their anger with the regime by embracing hope.
Saavedra sneaks away from his day job at a Santiago ad agency to work on these targeted ads. Meanwhile, his boss at the agency, Lucho Guzmán (Alfredo Castro), a complacent member of the president’s Advisory Council, is working on the “Yes” campaign. Their workday encounters grow fraught.
All the supporting players do a fine job here.The only weak link is unconvincing scenes of Saavedra’s verbal clashes with his dissident ex-wife (Antonia Zegers), who dismisses her husband’s campaign as vapid and a slap in the face of true resistance.
Fans of Mad Men and Argo are bound to be drawn to No, a thought-provoking political thriller that sheds light on the efficacy of uplifting imagery and the power of the collective.