The power of 'No'

Pablo Larraín’s No is not, by any definition, a blockbuster film. But you wouldn’t know that judging only from the monsoon of students that crashed through the doors of Universidad Diego Portales on August 8th for a free pre-release showing of the film. The students formed a line so long that it wound through the library’s massive lobby, out the door, and down the block.

Still from the film (Image courtesy of <em>No</em>)
Still from the film (Image courtesy of No)

The film was set to be released in theaters the next day, still cheap at about CP$3,000 (US$6.00) per ticket, and met with success landing at number three in the national box office. This showing was part of a tour of Larraín’s own invention for the major universities of Santiago, during the week leading up to the film’s release.

No is set in Chile during the 1988 referendum, a national direct vote held to determine whether or not military dictator Augosto Pinochet would continue to rule the country. The vote is as simple as yes or no— yes for Pinochet to maintain power, no for him to relinquish it.

No tells the heretofore-untold story of the left-center creative design team that, in a coup of their own, successfully garnered support for the No campaign by “selling” peaceful resistance to the public in a surprisingly colorful and upbeat package.

 Still from the film (Image courtesy of <em>No</em>)
Still from the film (Image courtesy of No)

The film also gives insight into the creative efforts for the thematically less-positive “Yes” campaign, while showing the personal relationships between the people on both sides. These interactions, however, are all draped in the dangerous overtones of trying to organize a rebellion under a dictatorship; the threat of real police and secret police is alive in some of the film’s darker scenes.

But No is not intended to be a film that merely showcases the horrors of the Pinochet regime. Pinochet movies have been done before; Larraín’s own Tony Moreno and Post Mortem falling under that vast umbrella. With No, Larraín hopes to drive home a more general message—one that he’s aiming specifically at Chile’s youth.

The movie is highly visually relevant, with star Gael Garcia Bernal and his co-stars sporting the self-same styles that one might find in Santiago’s more underground fashion world. Larraín used a pneumatic recording system from the early 80s to film the movie, so that new footage would blend with archival footage for a coherent visual experience, but the effect is also eerily reminiscent of an Instagram photo filter. Generational jokes of the period illicit sentimental, knowing laughter from those who lived it and ironic chuckles of appreciation from those who place such fads on a cultural pedestal and worship them as vintage.

Gael Garcia, with era-appropriate hairstyle (Image Courtesy of <em>No</em>)
Gael Garcia, with era-appropriate hairstyle (Image Courtesy of No)

But Larraín also hopes his film can help to make crucial connections for Chile’s currently mobilizing youth about the importance and the success of the No campaign.

“You all see Pinochet as something completely distant,” Larraín explained to the auditorium on the bottom floor of Universidad Diego Portales’ library. The room was stuffed to the brim with students, the majority of whom were likely born after the year 1988, and thus have no personal recollection of the dictator years. The same group that giggled at Pinochet every time he appeared on screen, as if his existence were an inside joke, sobered at the director’s words. “We’re hoping this movie can start a dialogue, because it took a lot to take Pinochet out of power. It’s a story that deserves to be told.”

And it’s a story that is not want for modern social relevance. Beginning in 2011, the students of Chile have taken to the streets to rally for free public education. As the movement takes over the country, fiery clashes between students and carabineros, between rock-throwers and water cannons are becoming a staple of the nightly news once again.

The point of the film is not a history lesson; the Pinochet regime is fresh enough that it is still ubiquitous in Chilean popular culture. One student, speaking of the film’s merit as a political biofilm, said, “Yeah, it’s political, but it’s not really… objective. If people who didn’t live it want to learn about Pinochet, they should read a book or take a class, maybe in addition to watching this movie.”

Archival footage of water cannons (Image Courtesy of <em>No</em>)
Archival footage of water cannons (Image Courtesy of No)

And Larraín agreed, “This is a point of view on what happened; it’s not exactly the official story.” The goal, rather, is to provide students with an alternative view of what efforts can change society—the use of forward-thinking in the face of negativity being a powerful one, and one that has worked for Chile before.

The students began to trickle out of the theater, amidst enthusiastic applause as Larraín thanked them for coming, and for engaging in the discussion he was thrilled to initiate. It was clear that many of the attendees continued to muse on the story they’d just seen, and what the director hoped they’d draw from it.

A girl with acid-washed jeans and a nose piercing who could have stepped right out of the film took the point head-on, “[No] clearly shows how an ideology, especially an ideology with a strong group of people behind it, can truly do something to change a society. It’s very inspiring, and a really strong and true message that should definitely influence the students who are mobilizing here in Chile.”

No (Winner of Art Cinema Award Cannes Film Festival 2012)?
Pablo Larraín, 2012?
Chile
Released August 9, 2012?

Official website and trailer: http://nolapelicula.cl/

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