Film

'No': Campaigning Against Pinochet in 1988

René maintains that you can't sell fear, that consumers won't vote no if their only reason is negative.


No

Director: Pablo Larraín
Cast: Gael García Bernal, Alfredo Castro, Antónia Zegerz, Pascal Montero, Luis Gnecco, Marcial Tagle, Néstor Cantillana, Jaime Vadell
Rated: R
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Year: 2012
US date: 2013-02-15 (Limited release)
UK date: 2013-02-08 (General release)
Website
Trailer

The screen is filled with a soda commercial. The sun shines, couples stroll and smile in a leafy park, someone brandishes the soda bottle, a man in black and white makeup performs. Wait. "What the fuck is a mime doing in the middle of my movie?" The camera cuts to the ad man René (Gael García Bernal), as he listens to Lucho (Alfredo Castro), the man who's hired him and now worries that what he's seeing -- the mime, for instance -- is "not us." René nods and explains that this s precisely his project, to change the going formulation of "us." He turns to Lucho's associates, seated around a table to watch the ad, and says, "We have to trust our product."

Here again, a moment in No that gives pause. For just as René describes how television shapes consumers, Pablo Larraín's film introduces how television shapes politics. Lucho hires René to create the "No" campaign, an effort to convince voters to reject a dictator. It's 1988 in Chile, and Augusto Pinochet has announced the October 5 national plebiscite, a chance for people to say yes or no to eight more years of his rule, the rule established by a 1973 US-backed coup d'état and notoriously brutal throughout its 15 years.

As Pinochet promises a transition to democracy via the plebiscite, his campaign and that of his opponents (several parties assembled as the "Coalition of Parties for NO") are each granted 15 minutes on TV a night for 27 nights. René the pitchman understands both the meaning and means of television ads, how they create desires and consumers too: the mime, TV, "we," "our product," they're all of a piece.

René's clients are reluctant, worrying that the dictator's many crimes will be repressed, that the 40% poverty rate will be forgotten, and the campaign will be full of lies. René, however, maintains that you can't sell fear, that consumers won't vote no if their only reason is negative. The product needs to be appealing, "something a little lighter and a little nicer." And so he and his team come up with the La alegría ya viene ("Joy is coming") campaign. Working essentially without funds, eluding authorities, and shooting guerrilla-style, they film riders on horses and dancers on sidewalks, bellbottoms wide and sunshine grainy.

If these ads look vintage, "something a little lighter and a little nicer," it's because they are. No uses actual ads from the campaign, then shoots its narrative scenes on TV tape, matching the ads' washed out colors and handheld irregularities, life bleeding over into fantasy and vice versa. As much as the president's men try to counter the happiness pitch, offering images of a grandfatherish Pinochet in civilian clothes rather than his usual military uniform, waving to crowds and praised by citizens. The No campaign comes back, with more smiling children, more kids on bikes, and then, remarkably, a choreographed number where mothers sing about their disappeared sons and daughters.

The number, shot first to reveal the mechanics and then revealed as a TV spot, underlines all sorts of absurdity and cynicism, of the Pinochet regime and its referendum, of the ad men's answers and the consumers' tastes. It also makes clear a trajectory in Larraín's trilogy about the Pinochet era, a trajectory concerned with the mainstreaming of pathologies, whether the killer as John Travolta imitator in 2008's Tony Manero, the morgue attendant for whom too much death exposes the trivial nature of life in 2010's Post Mortem, and now, the salesman who becomes the most perfect product in No.

For even as René may be the most accomplished, most apparently self-aware of the pitchmen in No, the film suggests that he is also consuming, selling, and sold. He's assumed the means of US commercial culture, has faith in its effectiveness (the celebrities who appear in ads supporting No include Jane Fonda and Richard Dreyfuss), and he believes that this time, the US is "with us."

René is surrounded by the objects he's tasked to sell, at once conscious of how he dresses them up and how they also deliver on their promises, to a point. When he brings home a new microwave that barely fits into his small living room, he shows it off to his less-than-impressed little boy Simón (Pascal Montero) as a fun new way to make cheese sandwiches. But even as Simón might embody a future that has little to do with microwaves or with the noisy toy train set that fills up the floor in that same living room (brief scenes contrasting and also connecting "home" and "work," indicating the film's tight, perfect construction), René is ever reminded of an immediate, still painful past represented by his ex, Verónica (Antonia Zegers). A dedicated activist, she persists in demonstrating and being arrested, sometimes abused by police.

When on one occasion René is on hand to witness the beating, his efforts to intervene are useless. The officer tosses him aside and drags Veró and her fellows away, bloodied and crumpled. René's other option, pulling strings to get her released from jail, is effective but shortsighted, manipulating and so prolonging the system of favors that reinforces both power and powerlessness. René's dilemma doesn't resolve here: he never sorts out a single right path, only muddles through. It's a notion suggested both by the charming images of him making his way to work on his skateboard and also an unnerving scene where a referendum rally goes wrong, authorities assaulting citizens with bats and gas, and René must escape through the panicky crowd with little Simón, their day out ruined.

With these images of René in motion in mind, the fact that Pinochet loses the plebiscite seems almost an afterthought. Again, René is making his way through a crowd, and again, it's unclear what's been wrought. With the dictator voted out, the new product is in. Whether that product means something apart from itself as product, the one we have to trust.

10

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less
10

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image