Director: Pablo Larraín
Year: 2012
Country: Chile

The year is 1988, and Chile is under the notorious government of Augusto Pinochet. Thousands of Chileans have been imprisoned, tortured, or killed by the military dictatorship, but thanks to international pressure there is a glimmer of hope. An approaching referendum will decide whether or not Pinochet should rule for a further eight years.

In their ads, the “No” campaign has so far been focusing on the past crimes of Pinochet’s government, but this has proven ineffective. René Saavedra, a successful advertisement creator, is approached by the “No” side and asked to help redesign their campaign. René realises that the people of Chile need to be inspired with a hopeful image of the future, not just terrified of the present. His bold and unconventional ads and slogans are bright and optimistic, and the “No” campaign quickly starts to gain momentum.

René demonstrates his new campaign logo.

But René has also thrust himself into a world of dangerous opposition. As René continues to outplay them for the hearts of the public, the “Yes” campaigners and supporters of Pinochet carry out increasingly desperate acts of intimidation and sabotage. René is accustomed to filming TV ads for soft drinks and soap operas, but now potentially holds the future of his country in his hands.

René soon finds himself far out of his depth.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about No is how much this modern drama film captures the look and feel of a documentary or newsreel from thirty years ago. It’s filmed on ¾ inch Sony U-matic magnetic tape, which has not seen wide use since the 1980s. This means that the film can seamlessly blend in real archival footage from the time of the referendum, allowing the characters to be present for actual historical demonstrations and police crackdowns. The real “No” ads themselves are also shown, and we see for ourselves just how effective and rousing they are.

The film faithfully recreates a turbulent moment in Chile’s history.

Anyone with a knowledge of world history already knows how the referendum plays out. But despite the victory and celebration, the film smartly raises some troubling questions about the relationship between advertising and politics. Should our heroes really be applauded for turning political discourse into the simplified, easily digestible language of advertising, and selling political ideologies the same way they sell coca cola? Watching No in the wake of the devastatingly effective Trump campaign in the US is particularly chilling. No is a film that can be appreciated on countless levels, and comes highly recommended.


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