Pablo Larraín’s No details the media campaign that helped take down Chilean dictator Augusto Pinchot in a 1988 plebiscite that Pinchot expected to win easily. Gael García Bernal stars as the advertising executive with a fascist boss who decides to work for the anti-Pinochet No campaign in the election. The film features extensive footage from both the Yes and No campaigns, particularly the advertisements and media broadcasts, of which each side got 15 minutes a night for 27 minutes. Bernal forces the dour leftists to accept that winning was important and winning meant giving people hope, not reminding them of torture, or at least not exclusively. Slowly the campaign gains force and starts scaring the regime, who begins intimidating its creators in truly scary ways.
Films like this can be difficult to evaluate. No one is going to sympathize with Pinochet and fascist thuggery, although I no doubt underestimate the modern Republican Party, were they to actually watch a Chilean movie. Relying on archival footage could be a lazy crutch, but it really works quite well when combined with a solid enough story of a man with a leftist background (his father was evidently someone Pinochet executed or at least is in permanent exile, although this is never directly stated) and with a leftist ex-wife who is trying to protect his son and stand up for a Chile, not of the Allende past but of a fun future.
To what extent it really was the media campaign that toppled Pinchot, but there’s little question that the No campaign’s sophisticated advertising campaign was effective in giving people hope for change while the thuggish brutal Yes campaign (the ad of the communist tank rolling over everything including your children was insanely awful) alienated people who were looking for any reason to vote No. What I like about the film is how Larraín pretty accurately portrays the Chile that is to come. It’s not a leftist return to the Allende days, as much as the tortured and families of the disappeared wanted that. Instead, it’s a cheesy capitalist social democracy where rainbows and happiness and advertising appeal to young people. Chile has never looked back to the Pinchot era but it’s not like Michelle Bachelet is a raging communist. Even those Chile has a conservative government today, it’s a long ways from 1988. Chile has slowly developed into a modern tolerant and pleasant state, even if economic inequality remains a major problem. It’s not what Allende might have accomplished if Nixon and Kissinger and the Chilean military hadn’t undermined him, but it’s not bad.