In 1973 General Augusto Pinochet led a coup to take power in Chile. While in power he was responsible for the murders of over 3,000 people and the torture of a further 29,000 (figures from Wikipedia). In 1988, under international pressure, he submitted to a national vote, asking the people of Chile to vote Yes if they wanted him to continue for another 8 years, or No if they wanted a democratic election to replace him.
While this might seem like an easy decision to make, the people feared both what he might do if they voted against him, and a return to the poverty and breadlines of the communist regimes in place before him. Each side was given 15 minutes of national television a day for 27 days (though the government controlled the TV networks so essentially had the other 23.5 hours too.
No tells the story of the No campaign.
There were 14 small political parties involved in the No campaign and one of the Government’s key hopes was that in-fighting would lead to a confused campaign that would fail to pull in votes. However, early on the No campaign calls in young advertising creative René Saavedra (Gael Garcia Bernal), who slowly manages to steer them on the right course.
The political parties want a campaign based on highlighting the horrors of the Pinochet government but René realises that this might be more intimidating than an enticing reason to vote. He proposes a campaign based around selling to the people a vision of the happiness that Chile can experience if they are freed from Pinochet’s tyranny. The film charts the unfolding campaign and the intimidation tactics employed by the government to try to stop them, while paying due reverence to the atrocities that occurred.
It might not sound like a fun film and it certainly had the potential to be both dry and worthy (see Lincoln for an example), but there is a lightness of touch which mirrors the lightness in René’s work. The film is shot using 30-year-old cameras, with a squarer picture than traditionally used in cinema, and a lot of colour bleed – at times it almost looks like a stereotypical 80s telenovella – but it is all the richer for it. Every period detail is right and there are a few “Hey – it’s the 80s!” comic moments (my favourite being René bringing home his family’s first microwave) which could serve to take you out of the piece but actually draw you in further, adding a warmth to the characters.
This is a very good film indeed, and a good history lesson. The tone, which had the potential to be very dark indeed, is kept light enough while making sure we understand the gravity of the situation and the deeds undertaken in Pinochet’s name. It is a film which deserves to be seen by a much wider audience than it will be, and one that should be sought out on DVD/bluray if you missed it’s short cinematic run.