García Bernal ("Babel," "The Motorcycle Diaries") gives a powerful, moving performance as courageous ad executive Rene Saavedra --under constant threat from Pinochet's thugs-- who spearheads the "happiness" ad campaign that led to an overwhelming victory for the coalition opposition (or "No" party) in the 1988 elections that were forced on Pinochet by the U.S. government. ("Happiness is coming if you vote 'No'!" ) 97% of the electorate turned out; the "No" party won 57% of the vote.
The film is a fictionalized version of a true story; each character, García Bernal told me, is based on several real people. Garcia Bernal leads a sprawling Chilean cast including Alfredo Castro, Antónia Zegers, Marcial Tagle, Néstor Cantillana, Jaime Vadell and Pascal Montero. Two of the actual Chilean "Mad Men" of the time play bit roles in the film.
"It's a bio-film," explains García Bernal of the docu-fiction hybrid which deploys real footage from the campaign and juxtaposes a real newsman shot now with footage of him 24 years ago. This is why Larraín took the aesthetic gamble of deploying U.S.-bought U-matic video cameras of the period to make the film look as grittily authentic as the archive footage. While the lens flares and other primitive aspects of the cinematography are distracting at first, the decision pays off by placing you there and then, without distraction. Hopefully audiences will not be put off and go along for the ride. SPC believes in the theatrical experience, which is what the filmmakers wanted. The film will look best on the small screen.