Jonathan White’s review published on Letterboxd:
After watching No, I thought that a pre-requisite to understanding the events depicted is some historical knowledge of Chile’s Pinochet dictatorship. In my case, my slim understanding came from watching Costa-Gavras’s excellent 1982 political intrigue Missing. I felt that No, as a self contained film, didn’t really impart the gravity of the horror of that time. After discussing this point with my better half, I realized that not having foreknowledge or opinion was exactly what director Pablo Larrain wanted. This is not a film for Chileans, it’s a film for the outside world. Rather than propaganda, it strives to represent the feelings of Chile’s populous at the time.
The film centres around the 1988 referendum, whereby the citizenry were to decide if Pinochet would remain in power another 8 years, or if democratic elections would be held immediately. This plebiscite required the granting of TV air time to government opponents, something that had been vigorously and violently suppressed during Pinochet’s rule. Director Larrain’s brilliant stroke here was to concentrate on the making of the television campaigns by both the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ sides. This allows Larrain to show the feelings, beliefs, and fears of both parties, and those of the people, without having to resort to exposition. He also cleverly frames the story of the two ad men that were enlisted to work for the opposing campaigns. What makes this so clever is that he could make the two men dispassionate about the cause they were representing. They were advertising mercenaries, so to speak.
Another great device that Larrain employed was shooting the film on ¾ inch video, widely used at the time for electronic news gathering. This enabled him to seamlessly intercut between dramatic scenes, and real archive news footage of the time. The result is a visually linear, coherent narrative that masks the viewer from the seams between fictionalized remembrances, and documented events. A great question is brought up about this technique though, when you blend reality with fiction in such a homogeneous way you are creating a seemingly perfect document, while in reality the document is as imperfect as memory itself, and the biases of the creator.
No is a window on this specific time in history perfectly aligned with the window in which the International community was watching. While I found it got a bit muddled at times, particularly during the organizational phase of the No campaign, all in all it is captivating and carries you along. What it did for me is make me want to look more into those times and events, and I have a feeling that’s what Larrain wanted.