EdithNelson's Rating of No

Edith's Review of No

4 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes


Marketing Democracy

I don't have a lot of sympathy for the belief that this film puts too much emphasis over the television marketing end of the story. It's true that there was more to the story than that. It's true that the movie even hints at some of the other aspects of the campaign but not does spend much time on them. However, that's because the other parts of the campaign are not the story that the movie is telling. This is not intended to be the story of the whole of Chile's progress back to democracy. It isn't even the story of the whole of the referendum which made democracy possible. It is the story of the television commercials. That's it. The whole story would be much busier than the narrower aspects of it that we have here. That's okay; most human stories are large and complicated, especially when they involve as many people as this story inevitably would have. However, there are other arguments to be made against this film, and we'll get to them.

It is 1988. For fifteen years, Chile has been under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet following the coup in which he and other military officials overthrew the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende. Now, the junta has agreed to hold an election with but one thing on the ballot--will Pinochet remain in power for eight more years? The "yes" side has the support of the government. The "no" side has the support of the seventeen political parties hoping to take over if Pinochet steps down. Each side will get fifteen minutes a night for the twenty-seven nights before the election to present its side on national television, and then, there will be the vote. The "no" side recruits commercial director--and son of a man who went into exile--René Saavedra (Gael García Bernal) to make their series of TV spots. Saavedra has to fight against the various leaders of the political parties to get commercials that he thinks will actually help.

The more cogent argument against this film is that it glorifies the commercial makers, not the people making things different. And if convincing people to vote is making things different, which of course it is, why did a TV commercial--or series of them--have so much influence? The spot which makes Saavedra decide that he will help them after all is a somber series of declarations about the evils of the Pinochet regime. They are, of course, all true. Doubtless most of the viewing audience was aware of that. The issue is not so much convincing people about how to vote; it is convincing them to vote at all. The implication is that it is not apathy but fear that will prevent it, though apathy doubtless also plays a part. It really, really bothers me that Saavedra's commercials probably overcame more apathy, and it worries me that they might have overcome more fear. The study of the influence of media on voting patterns is worth doing, though that isn't the point here.

The way we can tell that the only point of the movie is the commercials is that we barely even dip into Saavedra's own past. We know his father is in exile, because that gets used several times as something which adds weight to his position as the right person to make the commercials. It seems there is some history between the regime and the mother of Saavedra's child (Simón, played by Pascal Montero), or anyway that's who I think she is, but it isn't completely clear. It is, in fact, probable that each and every person who is part of the No campaign knows someone who has disappeared, who is in exile, who is actually known to be imprisoned or executed. (That last possibly the most rare, given what I know of the Pinochet regime.) They know that know few of the people watching have had similar experiences, but they also know that those are not the people who need convincing. At least, not those who would be convinced by a simple TV commercials.

I still have not seen [i]Amour[/i]. However, I was slightly disappointed when it won for Best Foreign Language Film, because I wanted this to win. Not that I had seen any of the nominees, and indeed, I still have not seen any of the others. Foreign Language Film is one of those categories where it is hard to see the nominees before the ceremony. It often takes a very long time for them to be available in this country. This often leads to a certain amount of fuss that other films, ones actually available on DVD, are not nominated. The nomination procedure for Foreign Language Film is complicated, possibly to the point of being arbitrary. Still, I do at times wish that we'd start being more interested in films about other countries' histories. After all, the events in [i]Argo[/i] were in some ways not so different from the events in this film, or anyway plenty of parallels can be drawn. In filming style, too, come to that; if I were to talk about that, it would be about the effort made to make the film look to be filmed in 1988, not just set then.