I first became aware of Chilean director Pablo Larrain and his regular leading man Alfredo Castro from their startling 2008 collaboration, Tony Manero. I was less enamoured, but no less impressed by their follow-up, Post Mortem two years later. Larrain’s latest film sees Castro demoted to a supporting role to make way for Mexican superstar Gael Garcia Bernal, as an advertising executive who lands a political campaign gig in 1988 Chile.
After 15 years of military dictatorship, General Augusto Pinochet sought to counter rising dissent and hostility from the general public by holding the country’s first public elections during his reign. There was no opposition party, the people were gifted the choice of either voting YES to 8 more years of Pinochet, or NO for the right to hold a democratic parliamentary election. It also marked the first time TV advertising was first used in a political election, something that has grown into an incredibly potent tool around the world.
Larrain chose to frame the film in a 4:3 aspect ratio, whenever possible shooting on video cameras from the period to give the film an authentic look, and to seamlessly integrate it with archival footage. The result is a typically powerful piece of work from Larrain, inflecting with plenty of humour thanks largely to Bernal’s charismatic performance. However, for my money, the film lacks the necessary energy or dynamism to push it into must-see territory – a characterisation present in much of Larrain’s work.
However, as a glimpse into a previously untold story in a part of the world shrouded in secrecy and mystery, No is definitely recommended viewing.