‘No’ – political satire about 1988 election of Chilean leader Pinochet

By Eleanor Ringel Cater

Chile.

1988.

Tyrannical despot (is that redundant?) Augusto Pinochet has just (for the heck of it?) called for a referendum on his leadership.

This is not a gracious gesture on his part.  Under his iron-fisted rule, voting against him would be like voting against your right to breathe.

But as it turns out, there are many in Chile who would rather hold their breath indefinitely than rubber-stamp Pinochet’s right to rule.

Thus, “No,” a nimble political satire/drama about the raggedy campaign conducted against Pinochet’s re-confirmation. Their message: Vote No!

Or Hell No…. if you’re feeling passionately patriotic.

Rene (Gael Garcia Bernal) is an advertising wunderkind who is rarely patriotic and knows that feigning passion is much better than the real thing. Thus his ads for some sort of soft drin that are so generically pop-happy, he just as well be selling puppies, broccoli or euthanasia.

All that counts is that shiny, happy, upbeat 30 seconds — sunshine and rainbows and lollipops.

Not surprisingly, handed the “Vote No” account, he comes up with much the same thing. Pinochet is….well, it doesn’t matter. All the voters need to know is supporting the anti-Pinochet vote is like rolling in Cool Whip. Or having great sex with My Little Pony.

Filmmaker Pablo Larrain’s  point of view bounces from a cynical beginning to something very close to dead earnest by the end.  Initially, we’re asked to laugh at a political process that, much as Rene conceives it, is no different from selling, …well, you name it; he sells it.

The picture, which is purposely shot on grainy, jumpy videotape circa late 80’s, is ironically — and purposely — contrasted to the smiley-face idiocy Rene intuitively resorts to: Mary Poppins and the little-bit-of-sugar syndrome.

But Pinochet’s bullies are playing for keeps (so are their bullets) and, the  film transforms itself into something more serious. As does Rene’s campaign.  There is something at stake here. Something that deserves more than the back-handed slick-ery that Rene conjures up so expertly.

Eleanor Ringel, Movie Critic, was the film critic for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for almost 30 years. She was nominated multiple times for a Pulitzer Prize. She won the Best of Cox Critic, IMAGE Film & Video and Women In Film awards. An Atlanta native, she graduated from Westminster and Brown University. She was the critic on WXIA’s Noonday, a member of Entertainment Weekly's Critics Grid and wrote TV Guide’s movie/DVD. She is member of the National Society of Film Critics and currently talks about movies on WMLB and writes the Time Out column for the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

1 reply
  1. laurel says:

    I can’t figure out if we saw the same film. Granted I saw it in a theater in Chile without English subtitles, but your headline makes no sense at all. It wasn’t the election of Pinochet, it was the defeat. And I wouldn’t call the film a political satire; they were using real footage from the campaign and time period. And Rene wasn’t handed the ‘No’ account, he had to do it behind the back of his boss who was working on the ‘Yes’ campaign. Also you forgot to mention it was nominated for an Oscar.Report

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