No ★★★★★

No has one of the best openings in recent memory. We've seen the title cards about the brutality of General Pinochet's rule, we're primed for the seriousness of the era, and Gael García Bernal explains to an unseen audience that what they're about to see reflects the current social context of a Chile preparing to accept democracy. He presses play on the VCR and boom, there's a ridiculous '80s ad for Free Cola.

This sets the tone for the rest of the film, which explores how media influences public perception, sometimes to sell soda and sometimes to sell democracy to a country which has forgotten what the word means. Bernal gives his best performance in years as René Saavedra, the ad man charged with running the "No" campaign against the state government's "Yes" team in the lead-up to a 1988 referendum in Chile which will decide whether or not Pinochet will be allowed to continue his regime.

Director Pablo Larraín filmed No with low-definition Sony U-matic magnetic tape, the stock of choice for Chilean TV in the '80s. It's a striking aesthetic choice that, while boxy and ugly, instantly transplants one to a certain time and place. Larraín uses real footage from the "No" campaign, and it's to his credit that the re-creations mesh seamlessly with the genuine article.

This is an inventive, darkly funny film which charts the transition of political campaigns from substantial arguments to hummable jingles. It would be easy to lament this transition, but No shows how important it can be to present complex ideas as bite-size nuggets to the voting public. The acts of selling pop and freedom aren't as different as you might think, something No manages to satirize and celebrate in equal measure.

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