Academy Award nominee No is another film based on a true story, but what makes it remarkable is that this story changed history. It takes place in Chile in 1988, when the brutal dictator Augusto Pinochet bowed to increasing international pressure and allowed the people to vote YES or NO to keep him in power. He assumed that it would be an easy win, what with his goon squad intimidating the country. But what he did not count on was the ad campaign that the NO side was able to muster. Think Don Draper takes on Hitler.
Gael Garcia Bernal stars as René Saavedra, a successful advertising executive at one of Chile’s top agencies. He’s approached by a friend from the NO campaign, and he is at first leery of getting involved. And besides, the NO side is made up of a lot of different parties with no particular defining ideology except they are against Pinochet. Nevertheless, he goes to see what they have in mind. The way the referendum works is that each side gets 15 minutes each night on the state run television to air whatever they want. The NO campaign’s first pass leaves Saavedra cold. He thinks it needs to be more positive and creative. He encounters resistance from the older politicos who think the people need to see images of all the horrors that Pinochet has perpetrated on his people, but once Saavedra is on board, he uses his significant advertising skills and his large roster of creative contacts to wage a fabulously empowering and hopeful campaign. (There is a great moment where the Pinochet people can’t find any good actors and dancers, because they are all working with the NO side.)
The YES side had assumed they did not really have to do anything to win, but once the NO ads get on television, they realize they have a problem. They try every kind of dirty trick including some serious intimidation of Saavedra and his son, as well as the others involved in the NO campaign. But in the end, the NO side wins, and one of the great things about the film is that even though you know the outcome, there is a great deal of suspense right up until they call it. No is based on a play, and Saavedra is an invention, but as true stories go, the idea that you can overthrow a dictator with a great ad campaign is heartening. And it definitely has some telling parallels with our current political landscape. The differences in the campaigns were that one was selling fear and promises of wealth, while the other was pushing the idea that happiness is possible. Happiness won!
Even though the film is covering a pretty heavy subject, it has some wonderfully comic moments, including several of the ads that the NO campaign airs, and it is for the most part upbeat. The only downside (for some) might be the look of the film. The director chose to shoot the whole thing on the video that was used in the 80s, which makes splicing the old ads and historical footage in seamless, but could displease people accustomed to a high-def world. I got used to it pretty quickly. I really enjoyed No and even if you are not a history lover, the story of a despot taken down by a rainbow logo and a catchy jingle has got to be a draw.