Pablo Larraín has made two films about Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile, Tony Manero and Post-Mortem. His most recent film, NO, about the referendum that ended Pinochet’s almost twenty year rule, completes what Larraín has called an “unintentional trilogy” on the Chilean dictatorship. After it received a standing ovation at its world premiere during La Quinzaine des Réalisateurs (Directors’ Fortnight) at Cannes, the North American rights were quickly snatched up by Sony Pictures Classics. It recently had its U.S. Premiere at the New York Film Festival.
Shot using U-matic video cameras, Larraín wanted to match the look of the archival television footage woven into the film. As a result of using the same format that T.V. news was shot in during the eighties, the real-life footage seamlessly matches his purposely grainy and overexposed film. Despite it’s dreary appearance, I guarantee you have never seen a film about dictatorship that is this uplifting and entertaining.
The packed house at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall laughed, clapped, and cheered throughout the screening. Set in 1988, it recounts the amazing story of a national referendum that everyone thought was destined to fail but ultimately removed Pinochet from power. Larraín says he felt compelled to tell this story because, “There is no other case in human history - I think - of a dictator leaving power through a democratic process.” Leading up to the historic vote, each side was allowed 15 minutes of late-night TV airtime every day for a month straight. Gael Garcia Bernal stars as Rene Saavedra, a young, rebellious, skateboard-riding advertising executive who went from selling soap and soda to heading up the campaign to vote NO on keeping Pinochet in power for eight more years.
It was a genius idea, use the same advertising techniques that get people to buy things they don’t really need to sell the idea of democracy and freedom. Almost everyone running the No campaign thought Saavedra was nuts. He essentially made commercials and filled them with cheery, happy people, mimes, dancers, doctors, musicians and children--all singing what became the NO campaign’s catchy jingle, “Chile, la alegría ya viene” (Chile, happiness is coming). He felt the campaign needed to be positive and optimistic--the others thought he was ignoring the horrors that many Chileans experienced at the hands of Pinochet. Saavedra’s instincts were spot on. He ended up successfully using advertising to sell political ideas.
Politicians use words like ‘hope’ and ‘change’ and turn them into slogans just like an advertising company does to sell shoes or cars. “This is dangerous,” says Larraín. “Because they aren’t selling a product, they are selling a country’s future.” Although the film ends on an optimistic note--the NO campaign having removed Pinochet from office and leaving Chile with a bright democratic future ahead--Larraín remains a pessimist when it comes to politicians following through on their campaign promises. “How many of them have achieved what they say in their slogans. How many? Probably none of them.” Then he added, “But, you should vote for Obama anyway.” The crowd at Lincoln Center erupted into cheers and applause.
There’s no date yet but it’s expected that Sony Pictures Classics will release NO in U.S. theaters early next year.
Written by Juan Caceres and Vanessa Erazo, LatinoBuzz is a weekly feature on SydneysBuzz that highlights Latino indie talent and upcoming trends in Latino film with the specific objective of presenting a broad range of Latino voices. Follow @LatinoBuzz on twitter.