Set during the pivotal plebiscite of 1988, Bernal plays affluent advertising exec René Saavedra, who finds himself facing up against his Pinochet-supporting boss Lucho (Castro) as a consultant to the ‘No’ campaign – a coalition of 16 parties in opposition to the dictatorship. Unimpressed by the opposition’s morbid montages of weeping women and police brutality and with only a minuscule budget to work with, Saavedra puts his pop advertising nous to good use, rebuilding the ‘No’ campaign around happiness and optimism for a better tomorrow, free from oppression. With only 15 minutes of TV exposure in the early hours of the morning each day, and constantly shadowed by Pinochet’s secret police, the fate of his country lies in Saavedra’s hands.
Nominated for this year’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar (though seemingly destined to be pipped by Michael Haneke’s Amour), Larraín’s No is a superb culmination to a compelling trilogy of features. Blending the gallows humour of 2005’s Tony Manero with glimpses of the deep melancholy so palpable in 2008’s Post Mortem, Larraín’s latest endeavour hides a wealth of sociopolitical insight underneath its vivid aesthetics. Pivotal to the film’s success is the exploration of Saavedra’s home life, which not only provides our heroic protagonist with some personal investment in the ‘No’ campaign’s outcome, but also gives an insight into the Pinochet regime’s disregard for human rights – personified in his estranged, activist wife Verónica (Antonia Zegers).
Substantial praise should also be reserved for Larraín’s painstaking attention to period detail, apparent in everything from the overall look of the film, right down to individual’s hairstyles and items of clothing. With the aid of returning cinematographer Sergio Armstrong, No near-seamlessly blends a wealth of original archive footage with new material created specifically for this project in 2012, utilising the same U-matic video cameras that would have been used at the time. Further fine touches come in the form of a series of cameos from relevant real-life figures, including ‘No’ campaigners José Manuel Salcedo, Eugenio García and opposition candidate Patricio Aylwin, who went on to succeed Pinochet after his consequent deposition.
Arguably the most narratively compelling and visually accomplished film released in UK cinemas this year to-date, No will hopefully see Larraín’s oeuvre reach new audiences thanks to the preceding awards buzz and star draw of Bernal. If nothing else, it also shows the huge potential power that both traditional advertising and heartfelt political campaigning can have for the forces of good – all too often dismissed within our ultra-cynical, contemporary society.