Chilean director Pablo Larrain’s film “NO” is the final chapter in a trilogy on Chile’s former president Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. The first film was “Tony Manero” which was followed by “Post Mortem” and this latest is an Oscar contender for Best Foreign Language Film.
Based on the unproduced play “The Referendum (Plebiscito)” by Chilean novelist Antonio Skarmeta with the screenplay by Pedro Peirano, the finale immerses itself into the clandestine stratagem that goes on just beneath the surface of the political marketing campaign that took place in the 1988 plebiscite that led to Chile’s first democratically elected government in seventeen years. Pinochet, under heavy international pressure, succumbs to the election process thus dividing the country between YES and NO votes to his extending his term for another eight years.
“It’s an important movie,” said Gael Garcia Bernal at a recent press day for the film in Los Angeles. “That was one of the most important acts of fraternity that democracy has lived in the world.” Adding in regards to the severity of the social climate at that time in Chile, “It was a heroic feat that the Chilean people did.”
Bernal portrays Rene Saavedra, the nonconformist advertising genius that’s persuaded by opposition leaders to head the NO campaign. His character is a fictional blend of Jose Manuel Salcedo and Enrique Garcia, the two men acknowledged for creating the original campaign that led to the toppling of the Pinochet regime. He’s hired to create a campaign that will persuade people to vote on the side of the NO’s over the course of twenty-seven days of campaigning efforts. Of his forward-thinking role Bernal said, “He was a man who was a foreigner even within his own country.”
The main theme of the NO campaign was the simple promise that happiness will come if all vote NO. Larrain explained why this was the winning bet. “They didn’t attack Pinochet. They just promised a better and nicer future.” With ninety-seven percent of registered voters turning out to vote, the NO voters won at almost fifty-six percent of the vote with their slogan ‘Happiness is coming’.
This fact-based account covers an erratic time in Chilean history that was paramount in leading an oppressed people on the road to democracy. The overthrowing of the Chilean dictatorship occurred at a time marred by Pinochet’s regime which was characterized by a disregard for human rights, murders, imprisonments, exiles and the ones who just disappeared. “Perhaps what I’m most interested in is revisiting the imagery of the violence, the moral destruction and ideological distortion, not in order to understand it, but in order to shed light on it,” Larrain said of the heavy subject matter in the film.
“NO” garnered success at Cannes and was an official selection at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival and the Telluride Film Festival, all of which surprised Bernal. “It’s a great opportunity for it to be seen in many parts of the world. This film represents Chile as well as all of Latin America.”
Larrain, committed to recreating an authentic look of the late eighties, shot the present footage to match that of the past with a 1983 U-matic video camera and Ikegami tube cameras, all of which have less resolution than an iPhone, in addition to integrating a third of the film with original archival news footage. “It was risky in the beginning. I would be lying to you if I said that I wasn’t scared. I wanted it to match perfectly to create the right atmosphere. It’s a more documentary style of shooting.”
In regards to how the film is doing in Chile, Larrain said that with the recent Oscar nomination it’s now playing in the cinemas again. “We had a very good box office. Three ex-presidents came to the premiere.” And of the controversial subject matter, he candidly replied, “Everything that you can imagine has been said about this movie.”
NO opens in Los Angeles and New York on February 15th.