Over the course of history, some dictators have found themselves made into the antagonists in many a film. Some dictators just fade away into the ether after they are ousted. Augusto Pinochet is one of those men whose evils have gone relatively undocumented. Pinochet was a terrible man, he ranks right up there with Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini as one of history's greatest monsters. In making a movie about him, director Pablo Larrain illuminates a time previously left in secret.
In 1988, military dictator Augusto Pinochet calls for a referendum to decide whether he remain permanently in power. Opposition leaders, sensing an opportunity to give the people their freedom again, handpick a hotshot advertising executive, in the form of René Saavedra (Gael Garcia Bernal), to head their campaign against the dictator.
Really, the plot for No could loosely be summed up as re-imagining the plot of Argo with the staff of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce leading the charge.
Getting an ad campaign off the ground will not be easy. Resources are limited and Pinochet's men keep René's team under constant scrutiny. Eventually, Saavedra and his team conceive of bold advertisements in hopes of winning the election and their freedom from oppression. The spots are not what you would think of at first: mimes, dancing, rainbows, and the message is capped by telling countrymen “Chile, happiness is coming!”
René doesn't take the campaign because of personal political beliefs, he does it for the challenge. The rebellion is better captured by his father or Veronica (Antonia Zegers), an activist with eyes toward a democratic future. Not just her future, but the future of her son with René as well.
At times, René's apathy is a little off-putting. Bernal's portrayal of the man could not be confused with a politically correct icon of a movie about rebellion. One imagines that if he were not being paid for these ads, he may not have done them at all. His inaction is at its worst during a scene where René stands by when Veronica, the mother of his son, is viciously beaten by police officers.
René recoiling from the violence is less a question of his cowardice and a larger symbol of the systemic fear throughout Chile. With a wave of Pinochet's hand, you could disappear forever.
Pablo Larrain captures the conflict with U-matic cameras to give an authentic feel for the time period, but don't confuse this with documentary realism. Larrain takes liberties with the material, but none that feel blatantly false. What Larrain creates in doing so is picture that sells.
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