No ★★★★

Pablo Larraín’s NO is a fascinating study of both an important piece of Chilean history – the 1988 plebiscite (referendum) which confirmed the country’s desire to end the leadership of military dictator Augusto Pinochet – and the reclamation of state propaganda tools and the application of commercial/capitalist marketing principles to affect the desired change. Larraín manages to encapsulate a breadth of national feeling – hopelessness, mistrust, fear, anger, hope, and pride – into the fictionalised story of an individual (Gael García Bernal) whose methods of achieving the desired end is met with suspicion and disdain by his clients/supporters.

NO is enthralling in both its machinations and mechanisation; a complex blend of character interaction and plot movement put to film via period camera equipment, being 1983 model TV cameras shooting to U-Matic tape in 4:3 ratio. The choice of format gives the film a faux documentary like quality underscoring the reality of the context and events even as the cinematic nature of the shooting and plotting contrast at every turn. These production elements combine in a kind of literal metaphor for the re-appropriation of propaganda themes worked through the film. Bernal is also typically magnetic as the murkily motivated lead René, an advertising exec who is succeeding under the current regime despite being the son of a known dissident returned from some unexplained exile. Throughout proceedings Bernal holds his cards close, concern for his son and desire to be reunited with his ex-wife the only definite factors let out into the open. And yet clearly he has a morass of feeling buried beneath his diffidence which is driving his decisions.

Smartly constructed and played NO is top notch narrative filmmaking as historical analysis and critique, and meaty as it is sharp.

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