In a world where ad men grace our television screens, and dirty politics are a Netflix viewing away, Pablo Larraín’s No offers a fresh, creative look into the world of advertising.
No (2012) depicts the high-stakes Chilean referendum of 1988 that decided whether or not General Pinochet, leader of a violent dictatorship, would be allowed another eight years in office . This film focuses on the “no” (anti-Pinochet) side of the televised media campaign, led by the fictitious ad executive, René Saavedra, played by Gael García Bernal. Faced with a 27-day ad campaign, with both sides producing 15 minutes of television content each day, Saavedra markets the campaign by selling democracy as the consumable product and vision for Chile’s hopeful progression into freedom and modernity.
I was lucky to see No on its opening night at The Screening Room. I was nearly the sole ‘younger’ viewer amongst a predominantly elderly crowd. This age difference, however, proved to be an interesting dynamic. I found myself noticing our dissimilar reactions to the film, particularly in the film’s more satirical and comical moments. One scene stresses the advert’s need to draw out voting groups (youth and elderly women) that don’t often vote by making ads that they like. Most of the crowd laughed and cheered at the ad’s need to please elderly women.
Skateboard in hand, and adorned in what would now be seen as hipster-y/vintage pullover sweaters, Saavedra is the hip and brash ad creative that markets the campaign. Bernal played this part superbly.
His smooth, superficial, Don Draper-like marketing of the campaign immediately caught my attention, but it was the quiet determination and fierce protection of his seven-year old son (played by Pascal Montero) that really tore at my maternal heartstrings. Bernal’s fine balance between his marketing of the campaign, and his desire to protect his family while furthering his career, gives his character depth and accessibility.
The visual style of the film is appealing and complements its historical backdrop. Shot with three-quarter inch Sony U-matic magnetic tape, the film has a grainy, almost home-movie realist quality. This aesthetic, complete with actual adverts from the campaign, creates an intimacy with the on-screen action. The hand held camera work incorporates the viewer and the camera as participants into the excitement of the ad campaign, and the social context behind it.
The film offers a frank but honest portrayal on the nature of advertising. This is clearly seen in the last moments of the film. After his task of marketing the political ”no” campaign, Saavedra’s next assignment is one for a Chilean soap opera. The almost surreal grandeur of this ad comments on advertising’s immense potential for societal and cultural change, while also noting its almost inherent superficiality. As a whole, Larraín’s No is smart, direct and captivating. I definitely recommend.