Chile, 1988: Military dictator Augusto Pinochet, due to international pressure, is forced to hold a vote that will determine the future of the country. The people have a seemingly simple choice. They can either vote yes to extend his rule for another eight years or no to bring it to an end. In order to be fair, both sides of the campaign are given 15 minutes of television time per day for 27 days to plead their case. As in any election, there is a large group of undecided voters that this will help point one way or the other. However, there are also those who won’t vote out of fear of retribution. If they should vote no, and should be found out, what will happen to them and their families? Despite this being an anonymous election, this remains a very real concern.
To spearhead the No campaign, a bright marketing strategist by the name of Rene Saavedra (Gael Garcia Bernal) is brought in. It becomes his job to get these people out to vote despite their fears. Rene’s background consists of having worked on marketing campaigns such as the one we find him pitching at the beginning of the film for soda, or later on in the film when he tries to publicize a new soap opera. He may seem like an odd choice to lead the campaign, but as he soon demonstrates he really knows his stuff. The No campaign soon finds out that they are making a few waves, particularly when the Yes campaign turns up their intimidation tactics, but will it be enough to bring the people over to their side?
No is a particularly interesting film for those, like me, that are unfamiliar with this important historical event. Sure, it’s pretty predictable as to which way the vote is going to go, but just like with other movies of this nature, it’s all in how it gets to its conclusion. These campaigns are fascinating to watch in regards to what strategies they think will work best to sway the people. At first, the No campaign wants to jump right into all the terrible things that have happened under Pinochet’s dictatorship such as executions, disappearances, and poverty, but Rene soon brings them around to a new strategy that emphasizes the happiness that will be enjoyed by all Chileans once they are freed of their ruler.
In contrast, the Yes campaign works in the opposite way. At first they emphasize all the good that has come out of Pinochet’s rule such as the modernization of the country, but eventually, out of desperation, their tactics switch over to mudslinging in an effort to discredit the other side. A rather interesting maneuver for a group of people that didn’t think they would have to do much to win the vote in the first place. In fact, one of the opposition’s main concerns was that the Yes campaign would simply use Pinochet’s power to fix the plebiscite in their favor, but as it turns out, they didn’t feel the need to do so.
Another thing the film does rather well is mixing in some unexpected humor, which almost goes to the point of satire. Going back to the No campaign’s strategy, we understand when they immediately want to start off with a harsh dose of negative criticism regarding Pinochet’s rule, but the complete 180 to the whole “happiness is coming” campaign comes off as rather silly. It gets even more so when they include a multitude of generic images showing Chileans going about their happy lives (having a picnic, dancing in the street, enjoying the back and forth motion of windshield wipers during a rainfall, etc.). It looks comical, but lo and behold, it ends up being the kind of marketing that starts swaying voters their way.
As I already mentioned, it becomes pretty clear as to which way the majority of votes are going to fall, but that’s not to say that the film is lacking in suspense. There’s plenty to be had among the opposing campaigns, particularly when the Yes campaign starts playing dirty by staking out Rene’s home, where he lives with his son, and the No headquarters. So even though you know where the film is headed, it still keeps you engaged via other methods.
No was an Oscar nominee earlier this year for Best Foreign Language Film, and I have to say that it was actually better than what ended up taking the award, Amour, though my vote would still rest with A Royal Affair, a film that made my top ten list of last year. No’s fascinating look at this historical event makes for a riveting watch that anyone will be able to get wrapped up in. It’s a rather simple story, but it works well because there’s so much at stake with this one little vote. Oust the dictator and move towards democracy, or keep him and let things proceed as they are. Such a vote had never been heard of, but it was given to the citizens of Chile, and a small group of people were brave enough to rally them together in an effort to change everything. Who would have thought marketing and politics could mix this well?
Now let’s take a brief look at the Blu-ray specs. The film is presented in a 1.40:1 transfer that is unlike any other film that I can recall. There are times when it almost seems as though it’s supposed to be in 3-D (the director explains that this was simply adjustments made to the camera), but for the most part, it looks as though it’s shot in a somewhat low quality, giving it a neat, gritty documentary-like quality to it which ends up being very effective. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio on the other hand is crisp and clear, resulting in no complaints about either element.
Where this Blu-ray is a bit disappointing is in the special features, which only include a commentary with director Pablo Lorrain and star Gael Garcia Bernal, as well as a Q&A with Bernal at the Toronto International Film Festival. A sampling of the commentary shows that these two don’t really have that many interesting things to say about the film, but the Q&A does explore Bernal’s thoughts on the film in some depth, making the 12-minute featurette worth a watch. Given that this historical event wasn’t all that long ago, it would have been neat to include some interviews with people who lived through it in order to give us a first-person perspective of this unprecedented choice.
Despite the lack of special features, No is still an easy Blu-ray to recommend. The film, while perhaps a little longer than it needs to be at nearly two hours, remains riveting throughout most of its runtime. These were ordinary people who just wanted to get the word out on what they felt was right, and as it turns out, there were many, many others who felt that the same change was needed. It just goes to show that, given the power to do so, people can change things for the better.
This review is based on a copy of the Blu-Ray that we received for reviewing purposes.