Movie review: Ad campaign asked Chileans to vote 'No'

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Back in 1992, Clinton strategists preached successfully: "It's the economy, stupid."

In the movie "No," an advertising guru could have said, "It's the prospect of happiness, stupid." Well, maybe not the stupid part.

Both campaigns were, in essence, selling a vision of the future to their audience and countrymen.

"No," an Oscar nominee for best foreign language film (it lost to the wrenching "Amour"), was inspired by actual events in 1988 Chile when Gen. Augusto Pinochet's retention was put in the hands of the people.

The movie opens with a very short recap about the whens and wheres of the dictator's rise to power. In 1973, Chile's armed forces staged a bloody coup against President Salvador Allende and Pinochet took control of the government.


3 stars = Good
Ratings explained

  • Starring:

    Gael Garcia Bernal.

  • Rating:

    R for language.

After coming under increasing international pressure to legitimize his regime, the government called a referendum on his presidency. People would vote yes or no to extend his rule for another eight years.

Most believed the fix was in, that Pinochet would never set up a plebiscite in order to lose it.

But a coalition of 16 political parties opposing the dictator approach a hip handsome ad man, Rene Saavedra (Gael Garcia Bernal), who wants to sell the idea that happiness is coming if Chileans vote "No" the same way he markets soft drinks, soap operas or the newfangled microwave oven.

Rene proposes using the language of advertising, including a rainbow oddly reminiscent of the "Today" show logo, to drive home his message about what Chile could be, if the dictator is deposed.

Some worry this will ignore the detained and disappeared and, to a lesser extent, be too flimsy to sustain the mandated 27 days of campaigning. The "No" camp gets 15 minutes of television advertising every day, just as the "Yes" team does.

Can voters overcome "learned hopelessness" and get to the polls and then feel free at the moment of voting?

With "No," director Pablo Larrain closes his Pinochet-era trilogy that started with "Tony Manero" and "Post-Mortem." Even if you don't recall the voting results, you can look them up in seconds, so Mr. Larrain has to make this intriguing, enlightening and occasionally funny.

It's mildly all three although it doesn't, for most of us, have the insider thrill, humor or obvious tension of an "Argo." Nevertheless, the use of vintage cameras allowed the filmmakers to weave new footage with the old, so there's no jarring dividing line between then and now.

Mr. Garcia Bernal's sympathetic character -- his estranged wife is a radical activist, and their young son lives with him -- is actually a composite of two real-life people who appear in cameo with the enemy camp of "Yes" men.

Making a movie in which people are shown thinking and creating can be tricky, but "No" makes a bid for bloodless change, for shaking off fear and hopelessness, and for gambling on political awakening, crazy creativity and a Chilean ad man.

In Spanish with English subtitles. Opens today at the Manor Theater in Squirrel Hill.


Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: or 412-263-1632. Read her blog:


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