The politically-charged No from Pablo Larraín is a welcome nudge for today’s activists to reflect back on a catalytic period in Chilean history — the 1988 referendum. After 16 years of military dictatorship under General Pinochet, the ruling bodies succumbed under international pressure to reform, and issued a proposal. Yes or no to another eight years with the General.
What at first seemed like an invitation to fair competition soon became a duel between opposing factions. On the one hand you have the status quo sympathizers. On the other are a complex hodgepodge of dissenters. With each side guaranteed fifteen minutes of television time over 27 days (such electoral space had only been afforded to the government previously) the regime has opened the door for dialogue. Or the illusion thereof they saw appeasement to the world in. In NO, Larraín offers an intimate look inside the minds behind the voice of dissent during the month preceding the deadline — September, 1988. It is a retelling of a highly interpretive moment that forgoes fact and timeline cues beyond its opening.
Always the contentious topic, politics, and rights to self-determination in specific, are made peripheral here, meaning the endeavor is sure to unfairly draw polarizing responses among Chileans. Instead, what I thought as central was the bravery facing uncertainty of those campaigning for opposition in seizing an opportunity one is wiser to accept at face value. After all, it behooves any establishment to never compromise its preservation in the slightest.
In René Saavedra, Gael Bernal Garcia plays an advertiser extraordinaire lending his expertise to a cause — the NO’s — the futility of which loomed larger than any challenge he’d taken on before. In enduring doubters in family and colleagues, potential endorsers, and fellow campaigners, the NO’s journey from a conflict-ridden, skeptical collective to a unified force buoyed by momentum and boundless possibilities traverses an ebb-and-flow trajectory up to the showdown itself. The NO’s employ artful insinuation in place of appeals to fear and emotion culminating in the embodiment of a mantra; carefully cultivated ideals producing an early form of viral media. Across, the SI camp incoherently utilizes propaganda of economic prosperity (stats), the personality of cult behind its mastermind (used loosely). Seeing a formidable foe materializing and a failure to capture a resonating call of their own, they resort to spoofing and parody tactics of the art-fueled NO ads later in the campaign… forced to play catch-up in their own game.
Shot on tape to blend with 80s footage, don’t let the odd hues (hovering on the edge of brightly lit objects) fool or deter you from a solid drama on group dynamics, primarily. It is that and also one laden with campaigner buzzwords such as freedom, change, hope, and a host of positive values of the ilk. Like alegría; the theme of a catchy jingle that becomes their rallying call. Far from a be-all-end-all way — it merely is a suggestion of the grassroots triumphing over powerful institutions, a new way over ingrained notions. Of passion over reason. And heart over mind.