A referendum forced the people of Chile to decide for or against the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. With 27 days at their disposal and 15 minutes of airtime apiece, both the opposition and the dictatorship have their opportunity to make their plea to the people. No fascinates as an analytical piece of social and political upheaval, where mounting discontent is presented to its people via television screens. The eyes are watching television as the masses attempt to sway public opinion. But what No strives to be (perhaps at its detriment) is less a political savvy picture on the atrocities of Pinochet’s reign or the social conditions of the people of Chile, but rather a look into the nature of advertising a political campaign.
Shot on a U-matic video camera, No maintains an unabridged visual discourse. Director Pablo Larraín utilizes footage of the time, including the integral commercials of the time. This results in no visual transitions between the historical truths and his narrative sequences. It’s a logical visual device, albeit not a particularly eye-pleasing one. Brown hues dominate the frame, often times feeling stifling rather than necessary to the cohesiveness of the narrative.
No features Gael Garcia Bernal as the lead character, an ad man whose familiarity with the ever-expanding reach of America’s commercialization. Ads are pitched to comrades and clients alike with the same level of guttural tenacity. Larraín, who based the film on Antonio Skarmeta’s play, acknowledges the moral complexities of introducing a purely methodical and viscerally appealing approach to reaching out to voters. In one of No’s most compelling scenes, a broiling discourse on the subversion of Pinochet’s acts against humanity in favor of “happy” commercials with no acknowledgement of the past is dissected, where the means to victory requires a level of flexibility in one’s moral code.
No apparently caps off an impromptu trilogy of Larraín’s (Tony Manero, Post Mortem, and No) – a triad of films that discuss the rise and fall of Pinochet. Being unfamiliar with Larraín’s previous films disqualify me from making any overarching statements on some of No’s problems. Though it would explain my feeling of incompleteness with the film – No’s rich historical context feels ill-defined. This is compounded by a script that repeats much of the same beats too often, opting for poorly executed moments of suspense rather than making bolder statements on its time and place. Perhaps Larraín’s previous pictures fill in the context more fully? As a singular work, No impresses at times, though mostly lacks any narrative punch or political questioning to ever excel into something greater.