Pablo Larraín’s “No” (2012) is based on the true story of an unlikely PR campaign that helped ensure an even more improbable event: the ouster of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1988. The idea was simple: stay on message – “Happiness is coming if you vote NO” – with perky commercials that look like they were made to sell Coca Cola and the joy of dining at McDonald’s.
See trailer for "No" HERE.
After 15 years of government-sanctioned torture and many thousands of extralegal “disappearances,” world-wide opinion pressured the Chilean government into holding a referendum election – a “Yes” or “No” vote on Pinochet’s continued tenure in office.
The government gave each side 15 minutes a night on national TV to make their respective cases. Professional ad exec René Saavedra (a composite character played by Gael García Bernal) is the young creative who comes up with the “Happiness” campaign.
Saavedra’s colleagues wanted to depict Chile’s recent dark history by showing interviews of survivors and images of torture victims. Saavedra felt a negative approach would turn off an already leery electorate, so he insisted the “No-on-Pinochet” campaign accentuate sunshine, and lollipops. Did I mention rainbows?
As simplistically vapid as the commercials in "No" seem, they are not recreations. Larraín used actual video extensively throughout, including both real campaign ads and old news footage. He shot new scenes with an antique U-matic video camera to match the videos that were aired on Chilean TV at the time.
‘No,’ which earned an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film, might well have taken home Best Foreign Film if “Amour” (2012) hadn’t also been in competition. In Chile, it was less well received. Larraín’s family background also complicated the issue for some: His father and mother had close ties to Pinochet.
In a perfect world, politics and morality should not intrude on a discussion about a work of art, but as Kathryn Bigelow also learned this year, the more viewers are invested in an issue, the harder it is for them to be objective. For most Americans, Chile in the ‘70s is a faraway place, but even back then – for those who were around at the time – it became a bit more personal on Sept. 21, 1976. On that day, in the streets of Washington D.C., Chile’s National Intelligence Directorate car-bombed and successfully assassinated Orlando Letelier, outspoken Pinochet critic and Foreign Minister of deposed President Salvador Allende.
See playdates and locations for Pablo Larraín's "No" HERE.
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