"No," director Pablo Larraín’s Academy Award nominated Chilean film, isn’t simply set in the late ’80s. It feels like you’ve been just dropped into the ’80s for two hours. The movie has a marvelous sense of place and time, while also telling a story about the mixing of politics and advertising that feels as relevant as ever.
I understand after an election year it’s hard to get excited for a whole movie about political ads, but with Larraín in charge, it’s a topic worth revisiting.
Mexican actor Gael García Bernal plays René Saavedra, a popular, hip advertising man working in Chile. In 1988, he takes on his most intimidating and intense job yet: the campaign to vote against General Augusto Pinochet in the 1988 national plebiscite and to vote "no" for eight more years his often brutal reign of missing people and tortured political prisoners. Each party is given 15 minutes of television time every night to make their points and hopefully sway the nation to their side.
For the "no" campaign, Saavedra pitches an unconventional and daring strategy. Instead of pushing the tragedies and horrors of Pinochet’s presidency into viewers’ faces, he wants to sell the ideas of happiness, hope and optimism – emotions that have been subdued for years and replaced with cynicism and doubt – to the Chilean people.
His colorful, pleasant ads – featuring a bright rainbow-themed logo, a bouncy ’80s-drenched jingle and celebrity endorsements – don’t sit well with some of his political bosses, who worry Saavedra is coloring over the actual issues at stake, but the TV spots are a hit amongst the people. Best of all, they’re unsettling the "yes" campaign, led by Saavedra’s boss (Alfredo Castro), and pushing it toward slimy attack ads and intimidation tactics.
The story, written by Pedro Peirano based on Antonio Skarmeta’s unpublished play, is a somewhat standard underdog tale complete with cute kid and unenthusiastic wife, but little else about "No" looks or feels standard.
Larraín daringly shot the film with retro Sony U-Matic magnetic tape cameras – the standard for television news at the time – forcing the movie into a small frame and most notably giving "No" a remarkably authentic grain and grit. Even the color at several moments looks like it’s splitting apart and dividing before the audience’s eyes like an old VHS tape (though it’s thankfully less ugly than the tape-based horror collection "V/H/S"). It leads to an almost seamless fusion of archival footage and the original "No" ads, and the fictitious Saavedra’s story.
Saavedra may not be real – the skateboarding, bearded ad man who defiantly tells his party’s leaders that their original pitch "doesn’t sell" is loosely based on Eugenio García, the actual creative director for the campaign – but he comes to life thanks to Bernal’s quietly entertaining performance. It’s a modest turn, one not prone to big emotion or theatrics as he tries to sell something far more important than a bottle of soda.
I do wish the movie stepped out from behind the scenes to get a glimpse of the country’s emotions during the lead-up to the vote. Larraín spends most of "No" with Saavedra, who seems far more interested in pulling off the sell than the politics. He’s a complex character who compels the mind perhaps more than he compels the heart.
"No" is far from inert though. It’s a dryly funny and sometimes surprisingly tense look at a time when people were tuning in – not out – to what political ads had to say.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Matt Mueller
Published March 3, 2015
A funny thing - perhaps even a flipped-turned upside down thing - happened on the way to "Focus": The world fell out of love with Will Smith. The fairly small, R-rated con movie was never going to be the blockbuster to bring Smith firmly back up to sure thing box office status. What it does do, however, is quite nicely kill about two hours in sexy, sleek and breezily enjoyable fashion - a kind of Ocean's 6 or 7.
Published March 3, 2015
Rick Cleveland wishes America didn't want to watch "House of Cards." An interesting take - especially considering Cleveland wrote two episodes of the Netflix hit. However, for his latest work - the new play "Five Presidents," arriving at the Milwaukee Rep on March 10 - the tone lands a bit closer to Cleveland's other big political TV credit: "The West Wing."
Published March 1, 2015
It's been about 50 years since a bunch of bands made their way across the pond to America, sending the nation's teenagers into a tizzy - as well as their parents into a harrumph. Now, many of the figures from the era of the British Invasion - including Peter Asher, a renowned producer and the former half of the duo Peter & Gordon - are hitting the American road yet again for a 50th anniversary tour, coming to the Pabst Theater on Friday, March 6.
Published March 1, 2015
Rory Ferreira, aka Milo, has always been on the move. When he was a kid, he moved around a lot. Here, he moved up in the local rap scene, and with his name growing clout, he moved yet again - as many hopeful young artists do - to Los Angeles. And as many hopeful young artists do, he soon found the cold part of the industry. It became time to move again, back to the town he previously left: Milwaukee. So far, he's picking up right where he started.
Published Feb. 27, 2015
After a quarter of a century as Milwaukee music mainstays, Clamnation is coming to an end, bringing things to a grand close Friday night at the Nomad World Pub beginning at 9 p.m. There tends to be an assumption of the worst when band members go separate ways, but that's far from the case here.
Published Feb. 25, 2015
"The Lego Movie Sequel" made headlines yesterday announcing its newly appointed director: Rob Schrab, a veteran of TV shows like "The Mindy Project," "Children's Hospital" and, most notably, NBC's beloved cult hit "Community." He also wrote the indie hit comic book "Scud: The Disposable Assassin." Oh, and he's also from Wisconsin! Everything is local! Everything is cool when you're from Milwaukee!
Published Feb. 25, 2015
If you've kept an ear to the local music scene over the past year or two, the odds are good that you've heard about GGOOLLDD. The band hits the Company Brewing (the former Stonefly Brewery) stage on Saturday night as a part of Arte Para Todos. Before that, however, OnMilwaukee.com caught up with the group to learn more about Milwaukee's latest music obsession.
Published Feb. 24, 2015
In the war between honesty and artifice, "Still Alice" has a pretty phenomenal performance in the former's corner.
Published Feb. 22, 2015
In movies, time travel typically ends up in the hands of the decent or deserving. "Hot Tube Time Machine 2" proposes ... what if it didn't? What if, instead, it wound up in the depraved hands of a bunch of restrained man-child ids, who then proceeded to violate space, time and everyone and everything they ran into along the way? The answer? Some laughs, I guess. A good amount of silence too. Bags don't come much more mixed than this.
Published Feb. 20, 2015
After months of hoopla and think-piecing (and a bomb scare just for extra drama) the Oscars are finally set to go this Sunday. And I suppose that means it's time to get my picks in order.