Don’t say no to the film “No”

Cristina Lule

“No” is a political drama that centers on a historical moment during Chile’s efforts to end an authoritarian government. The film’s use of camera techniques places us in the era and instills the feeling we are experiencing the events rather than having them recited to us.

In 1988, Chilean citizens were asked to vote “yes” or “no” in a plebiscite, or referendum, to determine whether General Augusto Pinochet would return for another eight-year term as president. Rene (Gael Garcia Bernal) is an advertising executive who works on the No campaign to sway undecided voters to participate in the vote and bring down Pinochet’s authoritarian rule. In the days leading up to the vote, each campaign committee is given 15 minutes of TV time to present an argument through colorful and often times amusing commercials.

The film has the visual resemblance of an ‘80s TV news broadcast. The image is grainy and, at times, unfocused and over-exposed, which creates a seamless transition into actual footage depicted in the film. We see archival footage of citizens protesting on the streets and actual commercials with celebrities, such as Christopher Reeves who was a No supporter. Although it looks cheap, it never feels unrealistic. The true victory in the film is how Director Pablo Lorrain is able to portray a real event without polluting the authenticity of the image with overly-dramatic portrayals. We know it’s a reenactment, but Lorrain manages to encapsulate the time period so well it all feels raw.

The dialogue felt organic and maintained the film’s realism approach. This was partly due to the actor’s performances. Bernal’s versatility displayed the various emotions of Chile’s citizens. He was a passionate political committee member, unwilling to give up the pursuit of liberating his country from Pinochet’s governance in one scene and a concerned father in the next scene who worried about the safety of his family. The film lagged a bit towards the end, but Bernal’s performance managed to keep us engaged all the way through.

The film focused on Rene’s commercials. They were cheerful, upbeat and oddly capitalistic, not unlike a McDonald’s commercial. They were colorful montages full of smiling, dancing people meant to give citizens hope instead of instilling fear. However, Lorrain never let us forget the grim realities of what was happening at that time. We see actual footage of dead bodies on the street and soldiers beating citizens with batons and firing their guns at protest groups.

The film’s serious tone is punctuated by a few humorous moments. In one scene Rene and his boss are discussing the campaign, but Rene can’t stop bringing up his fascination with a newly-released cooking appliance – the microwave. These moments, while scarce, captured the humanity of the characters and consequently of the people oppressed during this time period.

The realism approach of the film gives it a few light hearted moments, but never loses its serious tone. It showcases the common man’s ability and determination to fight political oppression in the quest for freedom. As Rene said, “If you’re brave, you’re free.”


Cristina can be reached at: [email protected]