Going over all of the films I’ve covered in both Politic-a-thons, there is one area of the world, with really interesting politics, that I have consistently ignored, that being South America. This is a region of the world filled with political instability and, over the past 60 years, a large number of coups (mostly organised by the US government) and the installation of dictators. Today, I’m going to look at a film about the downfall of one of these dictatorships, more specifically, the film about the campaign to remove General Pinochet from power in Chile through a democratic vote.
The plot concerns the build up to an election in Chile, organised by General Pinochet, in which the population would choose whether or not they want Pinochet to be their leader with the focus being on the No campaign. Initially, they have a lot of difficulty trying to gain support, since they are focusing on the atrocities committed in Chile by Pinochet’s government but an advert creator is later brought on board and turns the campaign around by encouraging the idea that life in Chile will be a lot happier without Pinochet, in an attempt to rouse the population from apathy and get them to vote, despite the fear that they will be attacked by the military. The film also shows the increasingly repressive measures taken against the No campaign by the military as the Yes campaign couldn’t match the creativity and liveliness of the No campaign (along with the No campaign having the support of Richard Dreyfuss, Jane Fonda and Christopher Reeve) letting you know just how much support the No campaign started to get. The main thing I like about the film is how it recreates the tone of the period and the adverts in particular, not just through the set and costume design but also through the filming. No was filmed in 4:3 and on VHS to recreate the style of the adverts, in the same way that Good Night and Good Luck used black and white. This extends to the film using the actual adverts from the campaigns, not doing any recreations (which I checked by watching the actual adverts on YouTube) which adds to the effect of the film. The film also goes into the conflicting nature faced by friends and colleagues over the vote, as shown by Rene Saavedera and Lucho Guzman, the main characters in the film, who work together in advertising for drinks and what not at the start of the film but end up being on different sides of the campaign with there being a lot of fear in Guzman that the Saavedera going to the No campaign could be dangerous to him.
The performances meanwhile compliment the tone of the film. Gael Garcia Bernal is excellent as Saavedera, with the main thing that works being that he isn’t fully involved in politics before joining the No campaign, he has this outsider presence which allows him to highlight what is wrong with the No campaign and how the campaign can improve. He also shows the growing support he has for the No campaign and the fear that he faces for both himself and his son over what the military may do to him both during the campaign and if they win. This sense of fear is also shown by Alfredo Castro as Guzman who also gives a great performance. The actors playing the members of the No campaign also give great performances with all of them showing their disdain for the optimism brought in by Saavedera, believing that it is just cushioning the truth and that showing what Pinochet did will be a better campaign, but the film shows that the state sponsored media was complicit in censorship, meaning that, if the No campaign focused solely on the atrocities of Pinochet then the campaign would not be strong and the 15 minutes that each campaign had would have been used more effectively by the Yes campaign. The focus on optimism gains support from the people up to a point where the Yes campaign resorts to copying the adverts in the hope that people will overlook it, but the film shows that the people didn’t buy it, they responded better to genuine optimism rather than forced optimism, indicating that optimism trumps fear in political campaigns, something that politicians today should really learn.
Overall, No is a brilliant film looking at one of the great triumphs of 20th Century democracy. The fact that Pinochet allowed the vote to go ahead and responded to the results the way he did is incredible and the fact that the optimistic nature of the No campaign worked is fully shown here, aided by a great central performance from Gael Garcia Bernal.
My Rating: 4.5/5