SUNDANCE: No (***½)


No_(2012_film)No, the Chilean film recently nominated for Best Foreign Language film at the Oscars, is an engrossing look at the power of the quest to unseat General Pinochet from power through positive tv ads during the 1988 plebiscite. Director Pablo Larrain and star Gael Garcia Bernal shed a light on a unique period in Chile’s history through a visceral style that engages your brain and your eyes as it takes you on a journey. 

The film begins with a brilliant opening sequence made of title cards, a nice touch considering the narrative, catching us up to speed with the history before diving into the main focus of the story. After 15 years of military rule and facing pressure from world dignitaries, the Chilean people are asked to vote in the national plebiscite of 1988 to determine whether General Pinochet will remain in power. Prior to that vote, each side the ‘Yes’ and “No’, are given 15 minutes of advertising for 27 days, to share their points of view. René Saavedra is called upon to consult the ‘No’ campaign during the national plebiscite of 1988.  It’s a difficult choice to make considering he’s taking care of the son he has with an oft-arrested woman and is succeeding in his role at an advertising company. But the allure of the campaign entices him to participate, and convince the people to use positive, upbeat ads to encourage everyone to vote ‘No’.

One of the most unique aspects of this film is the use of U-matic tape to film the movie. It was a conscious decision by the director to do so, and bless him for having the creative foresight to use old film. The choice gives the movie an immediacy that is often rare for period films. Everything blends in together, you can’t tell where the old advertisements begin and the acted portions begin. It’s that visceral engagement that makes Larrain’s direction so top notch. The only problem I really had with the film was the length. It gets a bit tiring seeing the same advertising meetings and the second act just felt long. However, the third act explodes with kinetic energy and verve that it makes up for any problems beforehand.

Gael Garcia Bernal gives a great performance as Rene. He’s charming and understated, even when the script asks him to be demonstrative, he never strays from the calm, cool, and collected nature of the character he’s playing. What I was most impressed with is that you completely feel as if you understand the character he’s playing but there’s still an air of mystery around him. You feel for him when his distant wife pushes away and yet you yearn for him to reveal more of his motivations with the campaign. The film shot of the film plays on that mystery and reminded me of how all the best actors can convey emotion with just their eyes.

No will be released in the US on February 15.