Riveting portrayal of Chile’s 1988 campaign to oust dictator
Film director Pablo Larraín closes in on a series of three films set during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship (1973-1990) with his film “No,” the first ever Chilean film to receive an Oscar nomination for “Best Foreign Film.”
This riveting film is set during the plebiscite of 1988, which allowed Chileans to vote “Sí” or “No” for the continuation of military rule as a result the international pressure on the regime.
The campaign consisted of 15-minute slots on television for each side for almost a month.
Characteristic of Larraín’s work, the lead role is a laconic and ambiguous character living a polarized political time.
This ambiguous nature of the main character, along with the fact that Larrain chose Mexican star Gael García Bernal for the role, contributes in depriving the audience of a comprehensive political context.
Larraín himself descends from a family of politicians and prefers to keep his personal life out of the press. It’s questionable whether Larraín, like René Saavedra (García Bernal), hides behind his media to cover up his background.
René was exiled with his family to Mexico but returned to Chile to pursue a career in advertising. He leeches onto both sides, when he agrees to run the “No” campaign but receives a paycheck and protection from far-right businessmen benefiting from the dictatorship.
The film is not made for experts in Chilean politics, as it is captivating for everyone, however neophytes should not expect a history lesson.
“The film doesn’t pretend to serve for teaching high school nor is it a historical account. There isn’t a historical truth in this film,” said Larraín.
Like the protagonist of Larraín’s previous films, René tries to redeem his sold-out heart through his obsessions, his ex-wife Veronica Caravajal (Antonia Zegers) and their son Simon (Pascal Montero). His morality gradually becomes more ambiguous as the fight against the dictatorship proceeds.
The first film of the trilogy, “Tony Manero” (2008), brought Larrain to the forefront of the festival circuit. It is a haunting portrait of a serial killer absorbed in becoming John Travolta’s character in “Saturday Night Fever”—an ironic backdrop during the middle of the dictatorship.
The second film, “Post-Mortem” (2010), follows a stoic mortician, who undeniably and calmly sees the aftermath of the bloody first days of the coup d’etat that took elected President Salvador Allende from power in 1973.
In addition to casting a star like García Bernal, “No” stands out in the trilogy with the use of a U-matic 3:4 camera. The low-definition of VHS aesthetics draws the audience back to the 1980s. As the camera seamlessly transitions from scenes of campaign commercials to René bailing his leftist ex-wife out of jail, the footage stimulates a cloudy remembrance of that era.
Not only appealing in its cinematography, Larraín’s portrait of the plebiscite in “No”—both campaigns narrowly edging each other out—is both engaging and poetic. As Larraín explained, “It’s the curiosity about how a campaign for ‘No’ was done. It seems extraordinary to me, many people in Chile think the same.”
“No” will play starting March 1 at Landmark Theaters in San Francisco, and March 8 at Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley.
To read El Tecolote’s exclusive interview with Pablo Laraín follow the link: http://eltecolote.org/content/2013/01/interview-with-filmmaker-pablo-larrain/