Saying "No" to Pinochet.
Pablo Larraín (Chile/USA, Special Presentation)
Monday, September 10, 6 p.m.
TIFF Bell Lightbox 1 (350 King Street West)
Tuesday, September 11, 3 p.m.
Bloor Hot Docs Cinema (506 Bloor Street West)
It’s a strange honour, but No surely qualifies as one of the funniest films about the Pinochet regime to ever see light. The third entry in Chilean director Pablo Larraín’s trilogy about the dictatorship—shot entirely with analog technology that visually flattens the difference between archival footage from the ’80s and scripted material, making everything seem like a news dispatch from that era—the film tells the story of the 1988 plebiscite on whether to grant the general another eight-year term as president. It’s told through the perspective of René Saavedra (Gael García Bernal), a young ad man who finds himself in charge of the television campaign for the “No” side of the vote.
René’s portfolio of hyperactive soda ads, which always make time for a mime’s smiling reaction shot, no matter the product, makes him an odd choice for the job, and a seemingly poor fit for the “No” campaign’s brain trust—a broad coalition of leftist politicians, community organizers, and broadcasters, endangered and driven underground by Pinochet’s oppressive rule. The schism between the campaign’s social democratic messaging, which translates largely into grim ads about the nation’s 3,000-plus disappeared dissidents, and René’s tendency to boil things down to buzzwords and jingles—the shades of David Axelrod’s management of the Obama ’08 campaign and its promise of “Hope” and “Change” are surely not accidental—is gripping stuff. It’s also unexpectedly moving, as when the campaign’s banal sloganeering (“Joy Is Coming!”) becomes a populist anthem during a non-violent rally crashed by the police.
Most of all, though, it’s funny, thanks in no small part to Bernal’s buoyant performance as a gentler sort of Don Draper, and to the actual ad campaign, too bizarre to be be untrue. No is the rare political film that’s dead serious about its subject without being unduly enamored with itself. Lighthearted but sincere, it strikes roughly the same balance that makes René’s campaign a success, despite its awkward burden of turning a “No” vote into an affirmation.