Latin American Film: No

by tigermanifesto


No, which screened at the Grand Rapids Latin American Film Festival, is a fictionalized account of the plebiscite that finally ended Augusto Pinochet’s rightist dictatorship in Chile. It takes an unusual angle on the story by focusing on the efforts of an advertising executive, René Saavedra (Gael García Bernal), to rally popular support for the anti-Pinochet movement with a slick 1980s-style advertising campaign. The film is shot on 1980s video, creating an almost surreal color palette that heightens the reality of the film without obscuring some of its more dramatic moments, such as when Saavedra and his son are caught in an attack by riot police against demonstrators. By combining moments of visceral terror and some brooding suspense with a generally upbeat tone, the film captures the strangeness of the No campaign’s advertising strategy and its success. It’s a valuable historical film that shows how the media can be used for oppressive and subversive purposes and honors the courage of those who contributed to creating less repressive societies in Latin America. At the same time, it has strong limitations owing to its approach, and should not be taken as a definitive account of Chilean history.

In particular, it treats the leftist political parties and their leaders as unenlightened, backward chumps who don’t have the market savvy this brash young upstart has. Not to mention his good looks. By celebrating commercialism’s contribution to “freedom” it, unwittingly or not, undermines its commitment to democratic ideals and instead celebrates the benevolence of Western capitalism. I would still call the film an overall success, but it is far from perfect in its treatment of political matters.