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Vote ‘No’: René Saavedra’s plea to the Chilean population

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Alejandro Palekar Fernández reviews No, Pablo Larraín’s film telling the real-life story of René Saavedra, the PR man who mounted a press campaign against Chilean Dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Pablo Larraín’s film is a simple, albeit effective dramatisation of one of the key moments in Chilean history. No deals with the plebiscite of 1988, which allowed Chileans to choose between a further 8 years of dictatorship under Pinochet’s oppressive regime, or freedom.

The key protagonist, René Saavedra, played by Gael Garcia Bernal, is approached by the opposition to design the ‘NO’ campaign, which would encourage people to vote against the dictator still holding power. Allowed 15 minutes on television each day for 28 days – and only due to external pressure – they are forced to come up with a programme that is both didactic and entertaining. René opts for an optimistic approach, focusing on the benefits of freedom and choice rather than criticising the brutality of Pinochet’s regime, and the deaths and disappearances it sponsored. This struggle to both express and encourage democratic beliefs within the context of a dictatorship is the film’s key theme, and is completely enthralling.

Diverse political beliefs and opinions are explored through different characters, emphasising the uncertainty and chaos of the situation. In one instance, René’s nanny equates Pinochet’s regime with stability, and the plebiscite as unnecessarily breaking the status quo; though this seems unexpected, it helps the audience to understand the various diverging points of view that existed on the matter. It also shows that the dictatorship affected people in different ways, demonstrating both its positive and its negative impacts.

Despite its deceivingly simple storyline, No delves into profound issues such as the nature and meaning of democracy, and explores questions surrounding the advertising industry, party politics and indoctrination. Larraín’s decision to use old cameras gives the film a ‘vintage’ feel, making it seem like something truly out of the 1980s. This technique, combined with intertwining footage from the actual ‘NO’ campaign, give the film authenticity and more of an emotional impact.

Truly worth watching, No is an unforgiving, unbiased, and realistic look at Chile’s transition to democracy. The film’s powerful portrayal of the bloodless revolution and its consequences are a testament to the power of film.

 Header photo: still from ‘No’, credit Filmcomment