This is a revised version of a review originally published on this website November 16th 2012.
Pablo Larrain's No is nominated for the Foreign Language Film at this year's Academy Awards, which take place this sunday. The movie just premiered on limited release in the U.S. this friday and it is one hell of a movie. As the third movie in Larran's unofficial trilogy about dictatorship-era Chile, No is set in 1988, the year dictator Augusto Pinochet succumbed to international pressure to legitimize his government and called for a plebiscite in which people voted "yes" or "no" on whether he would remain in power for eight more years.
The movie focuses on the people behind the "no" campaign, and although it is based on real life events, its protagonist is a fictional young publicist called René Saavedra (Gael García Bernal). Saavedra has just returned to his native Chile after being in exiled in Mexico, he rides a skate board and knows how to sell a product. Each campaign has been allowed 15 minutes of television airtime every night until the election, and while daily airtime on national tv is already a big deal for the opposition, René and the other collaborators can't let the opportunity to defeat Pinochet slide. René approaches the "no" vote as he would any of the products he crafts ads for, something that doesn't sit well with the many politicians associated with the campaign.
In many ways, this movie reminded me of Ben Affleck's Argo (which is, coincidentally, the front-runner to win the Best Picture Oscar). Both tell a story in which a piece of media is used to achieve an important political goal. Argo, the fake movie, and the commercials designed by René and the other guys at the center of No are both daring ideas that may look stupid on paper, but that somehow worked. The difference is that whereas Affleck's Argo is a terrific hollywood thriller, focusing strongly in the procedural aspects of the mission, Larrain's No shines stronger light on its main character. René is a highly relatable man, he is surrounded by all kinds of opinions about the plebiscite (his boss is part of the "yes" campaign, his ex believes it to be fixed); opinions that affect his personal and professional life.
The movie seems to be shot with 1988 video cameras, and thus, blends perfectly with the commercials used int he No campaign and news footage of the time. The line between fiction and reality is blurred just like the line between René's life and the campaign. With its style and substance, No is very much about how politics affect our lives. Most movies about this topic show how politics will determine aspects of our life whether we want them to or not. No, however, seems to be interested in telling the opposite story. It tells the tale of what happens when we insert our daily, superfluos, lives into politics and how some of the most maligned lines of work, like advertising and politics, can work together for a greater good.
No is an optimistic movie that never loses its edge or bite. It is beautifully crafted, wonderfully written, very funny and highly entertaining. It has a lot to say and is great at saying it. It's only February, but I can confidently say No is one of the best movies of 2013.