Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar at the 85th Academy Awards, No is Pablo Larrain’s final installment in his General Pinochet trilogy. Named after the advertising campaign which aimed to overthrow the dictator’s rule; Rene Saavedra (Gael Garcia Bernal) is a money-hungry advertising executive who is asked to run the ‘No’ campaign, which aims to have a democratically voted Government in power in Chile for the first time in 17 years. Initially skeptical, Rene slowly realises the benefits of having democracy in his homeland and agrees and finds himself in direct conflict with his boss Lucho Guzman (Alfredo Castro).
Using a camera from the 1980s called a U-matic, Larrain is able to recreate a sense of time and place with some beautiful visual moments. There’s even video footage from the time, which only adds to the effect of this interesting investigation into Chile’s recent political history. Careful not to demonise Pinochet or put the ‘No Campaign’ on some kind of pedestal he clearly attempts to portray the narrative as a review of the facts of the era. Sadly this gives No an almost indecisive quality that means it lacks the necessary dramatic, or even melodramatic punch of other historical dramas.
Gael Garcia Bernal, one of the most versatile actors working today is able to stretch his considerable talents as the confident, sometimes morally grey advertising executive. Initially unsure about getting involved in politics, his personal investment grows until he becomes an almost faux political figure himself. If you’ve seen the TV Show Mad Men, he could quite comfortably slot right in. Opposed to him is Alfredo Castro as the truly disgusting advertising executive. Happy to sell himself to the highest bidder he becomes a caricature of the marketing world and while he sits easily as the antagonist, his careful portrayal cleverly reminds the audience that Lucho and Renee are not actually so different.
A nice blend of real footage and artificially aged footage gives No a quite unique look and feel. Grounded by two fantastic central performances and containing an look at one of Chile’s most important social changes it is worthy of its Oscar nomination. Sadly without a decisive decision to ‘pick a side’ as it were, it feels a little bit too stylish without enough dramatic punch to become a classic.