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Should you see it? SI! – ★★★★

Pablo Larraín’s story of the 1988 Chilean referendum which saw the people vote on whether General Augusto Pinochet should remain in dictatorial power arrives in Irish cinemas with some momentum. No is currently one of five nominees for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and features Latin America’s most famous actor in the lead role. AND received the illustrious honour of being one of’s entries in our What’s Worth Watching for February 2013

Gael García Bernal plays René, a Don Draper-esque advertising executive tasked with coming up with the television ads for the “no” side of the referendum (or “plebiscite” as it was known). Chile has been under Pinochet’s rule for 15 years and most people feel the vote, which is being run to give the country more legitimacy abroad, will be rigged to keep him in power for another eight years.

So first things first, this little film may well remind some people of a slightly bigger film made a few miles west across the Pacific – The Hobbit.

Bear with me.

The whole film looks like this. It's the 80s. It's fine.

The whole film looks like this. It’s the 80s. It’s fine.

People settling down to watch Peter Jackson’s 48fps epic reported it took 15-20 minutes to get used to the way the picture looked and one could say the same about Larraín’s film. This is because No was filmed on ” low definition, 3/4′ Sony U-matic magnetic tape” (see image on the right), which makes it look like a cheap made-for-TV drama from twenty years ago. Its use means TV news footage from 1988 can be seamlessly integrated into the 2012 film without any obvious signs of what is “then” and “now”. For a film about the media and the power of television it is important to not feel jarred when we are viewing the wealth of archive footage featured, so the visual adjustment to blurry 4:3 video tape certainly feels justified.

While the YES side push for classic fear mongering “best stick with what you know” ideas, René’s concept of an optimistic, energetic and modern NO campaign drives things along and tries to sell a new, free Chile to the people who have been living under oppressed rule for 15 years. The conflict and back and forth between the two sides of the campaign, both on and off the airwaves, is one the film’s real dramatic strengths.

Bernal is perfectly at home as the confident, skate-boarding ad man and it may go on to become one of his most memorable roles alongside The Motorcycle Diaries, Y tu mamá también  and Bad Education. We’re not saying he should give up on his Hollywood aspirations and only work in Spanish-language cinema, but when his English-language work is as downright dodgy as it often is (A Little Bit of Heaven which pitted him opposite Kate Hudson sticks in the mind) then you do have to wonder whether he should stick to what he does best.

Pedro Peirano’s screenplay flows really well and the two hour runtime fits the story perfectly as you never feel like you’re missing out on things and, with the possible exception of the subplot involving René’s son and ex-wife, nothing feels superfluous to requirements. The Hollywood version of this story would surely spoon-feed audiences with on-screen titles like “14 days to vote – opinion poll puts Yes side 12 points ahead”, but instead we’re sort of left to our own devices to piece things together as the campaign team bring their designated daily 15 minutes of television to the country’s disillusioned masses. The natural conclusion of the tense story is of course the plebiscite and if you’re a modern history ignoramus like me, then needless to say it’s preferable if you can avoid any details of how things play out and see the film “blind”.

No won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but if you’re interested in the power of advertising (and its weirdly dated late 80s hilarity) and want to see what the guy from the Gillette ads does when not preening his beard then it’s definitely a must-see.

Chile, France, USA  /  Directed By: Pablo Larraín  /  Written By: Pedro Peirano  /  Starring: Gael García Bernal, Alfredo Castro, Antonia Zegers  /  118min  /  Drama  /  Release: 8 February 2013 (Ireland, UK), 15 February 2013 (USA, Canada)



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Nigel loves stupid films almost as much as he likes clever films. He'll watch anything but is usually drawn to documentaries, North American independent films, Irish cinema and gung-ho, balls-to-the-walls Hollywood blockbusters. Here's what he's been watching.