Reviews - No
Reviewed By John Stakes
"No" centres on the events in the autumn of 1988 when Pinochet was forced to bow to a mixture of public pressure and desire for international legitimacy and order a plebiscite on whether his Generalissimo should continue for another eight years. More a referendum than an election as there were no candidates, voters simply being requested to vote "yes" or "no". Pinochet thought the result would be a formality in his favour. In the event he badly miscalculated. There was the largest turn out in Chile's history with 3.6million voting to remove him and 3.1 opting for continuation.
Public pressure had grown because during the regime's life over 2000 political opponents had been murdered, a similar number had "disappeared" and an estimated 30,000 were tortured and raped. Over forty percent of the population lived below the poverty line. And the strong arm tactics did not stop during the run-up to the vote with many opponents of the regime being beaten up or issued with death threats.
The "no" campaign was made up of a rag-bag amalgam of seventeen left and right wing parties with no initial strategy or tactics. They were given a fifteen minutes’ slot for twenty seven nights on late night TV to put their case, all other time remaining under government control. Pinochet thought no-one would bother to tune in and his opponents had the hurdle of how do you galvanise support for what is in essence a negative campaign?
Cue the "mad man" of Chile in the form of an advertising executive Rene Saavedra played by Gael Garcia Bernal (in reality there were two men) who spearheaded a quite remarkable media campaign which gripped the nation. His approach was not so much to attack the brutality of the government but to emphasise the "alegria" (happiness) which would ensue if the regime were to be toppled. Ironically the boss of his advertising agency Lucho Guzman was commissioned to work on the "yes" campaign!
Larrain was arguably just the man to film these events. Born during the regime in 1976, the son of political (right wing, wealthy) parents he was a co-founder of "Fabula", a company set up to advertise his cinematic work. Larrain, despite his parents' influence, was also anti-Pinochet as demonstrated in his earlier films and was particularly incensed by the regime's systematic destruction and restriction of cultural output and the persecution of writers. He also drew on the experience of his actors several of whom had featured in his earlier films.
In concentrating on the media campaign and voting process (rather like as Spielberg had done in "Lincoln") Larrain was heavily criticised for investing his film with over-simplicity and for giving the impression that the regime's eventual peaceful overthrow was attributable solely to the influence of the "No" campaign. His detractors felt that the Generalissimos appeared to "roll over" in the face of the campaign, a response shared by this reviewer despite the various attempts by the regime to railroad and frustrate the campaign both publicly and personally.
Larrain was also criticised at the time for fusing archive footage occupying 30per cent of the film with his fictional representation delivered in the same style. But this method of creating a docu-drama gave a real sense of living history which drew the audience into the unfolding events. However for this reviewer, there were times when many of Berna's facial expressions seemed to indicate he had little faith in the campaign style he’d spearheaded, though this may have been a deliberate tactic to convey to his boss, whilst at the same time letting the disarming simplicity of his message speak for itself.
When "No" reached the 2012 Cannes Film Festival audience it received a standing ovation and went on to become Chile's nominated entry for "Best Film in a language other than English" at this year's Oscars. And Keswick's audience voted it amongst its favourites of the season. There was no doubt that Larrain brought out all the energy and skill necessary to show how the campaign's sceptics were brought on board, and in creating and delivering an advertising campaign which galvanised the electorate when screened to the nation by the deceptive simplicity and universality of its message. Had the director managed to inject just a little more tension the film could have become a modern classic.
For the record Pinochet finally handed over power in 1990. In 1998 he came to Britain for a back operation and was arrested at the behest of the Spanish authorities but never deported to Spain and died in Santiago in 2006.
Next Sunday sees the arrival of one of the most eagerly awaited films of the year, the searing Danish drama "The Hunt" directed by Thomas Viterberg and starring Mads ("The Royal Affair") Mikkelsen. This was another 2013 Oscar contender and, amongst many successes, was voted the audience favourite at the 2012 Leeds Film Festival. A probable contender for best film of the season. Remember, admission is not confined to members: anyone can come!
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