Director: Pablo Lorrain
Cast: Gael Garcia Bernal
Watch NO online in the UK: iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent)
Director Pablo Lorrain followed his lead character, advertising agent René Saavedra (Bernal), and took a serious risk with NO.
Based on an unpublished play about Chile’s 1988 referendum on whether to extend dictator Pinochet’s rule for another eight years, he shot the film on old 3:4 U-matic cameras. The low-def tape is used to great effect, blending the shots of Gael Garcia Bernal’s cool, thoughtful ad guy with unsettling footage from 1980s Chilean news. The grainy police-conducted violence contrasts beautifully with Bernal’s collected yet determined opposition to the regime.
Bernal himself is seamless. It is almost impossible to separate him from Saavedra – and far more enjoyable not to. It is a pleasure to simply bathe in the simple nature of someone who quietly overthrows a dictatorship, while also skateboarding to work and selling cheap cola through music videos. Like the film, he is unassuming. We see him with his son, playing with trains; with his wife, telling her to be safe; in a room of angry, rival political activists, quietly reaching one wise conclusion after another. The film continues in this subdued vein. There are moments of real, poignant fear but it is never exploited for suspense. The real news footage is embedded not to enrage, or discredit Pinochet, but to show how the characters react.
Saavedra’s relationship with his boss is the most interesting. A partner at the Rene’s firm, he opts to back, and run, the state’s YES campaign, becoming his protégé’s opposite number. At first ridiculing him, then offering him a promotion to step down, he comes across as poisonous and untrustworthy but Saavedra’s treatment of him means we rarely see him as a bad guy; theirs is a professional relationship of pure respect.
It’s this aspect of the film that promotes it best. It is, by all involved, an effort to create a film utterly, believably honest and fair to its subject. It’s a risk. And it pays off perfectly.