Directed By: Pablo Larrain

Starring: Gael García Bernal, Néstor Cantillana, Amparo Noguera, Antonia Zegers, Marcial Tagle, and Luis Gnecco

"No me gusta, no.  No lo quiero, no... (I don't like him, no.  I don't want him, no...)"
-Chilean Singers

The Academy Awards have come and gone.  That means that the awards season is finally done.  The golden statuettes handed out this year are now collecting dust on the trophy-laden shelves of the winners.  Slowly but surely, films like Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and The Impossible are beginning to disappear from theaters across the country, leaving room for newcomers.  It's now time to feast on some fresh independent and foreign films!  This weekend, we have Pablo Larrain's Chilean political drama NO, a surprisingly lighthearted look at the people of Chile in the 80s and their fight for freedom.

For fifteen years, General Augusto Pinochet ruled over Chile with an iron fist.  It's now 1988.  Because of international pressures, Pinochet and his regime are forced to hold a plebiscite in which the people of Chile will vote yes or no on whether to continue the general's military dictatorship for another eight years.  To create the illusion of fairness, the Pinochet regime has declared a 27-day campaign during which both the YES and NO sides will have fifteen minutes daily to get their message to the people on television.  The general's staff believe they have the plebiscite in the bag because the NO supporters are from seventeen different political parties with varying agendas.  They don't believe that the NO supporters can send a unified, sellable message to the people.  They just didn't anticipate that their opponents would hire advertising expert René Saavedra (Gael García Bernal) or that he would use happiness against them.

NO is a film that completely surprised me.  I'm not quite sure what I expected, but it wasn't this.  I knew that happiness would play a critical part of the NO supporters' marketing campaign, but I never quite expected an affair this light.  I guess the historical context of the Pinochet regime left me expecting something heavier from the film.  There's plenty of brutality, inequality, and injustice brought to the forefront of the film, but there's a lot of downright funny material in this Chilean movie as well.  The marketing warfare and the humorous yet ridiculous nature of some of the advertisements facilitate a healthy balance of seriousness and frivolity in the movie that works incredibly well.  It's the film’s most potent asset.  

Gael García Bernal is the star of the show, and director Pablo Larrain makes this abundantly clear throughout the film.  What I appreciate most about García Bernal's performance is that it's understated.  His restraint works quite well and makes his emotive acting undeniably potent.  He doesn't hog the camera.  He doesn't overact.  He just gives us a nuanced interpretation of this advertising expert trying to kill his enemies with kindness.  It's all about the subtlety here, and García Bernal employs this throughout his excellent performance in NO.

Larrain also crafts a film that really taps into the essence of the 80's.  He focuses on establishing NO as a fun period piece.  You can see it in the low definition quality of the film's visuals.  You can hear it in the sugary pop music that pervades every advertisement from the NO supporters.  You can feel it in the overall tone of the cheesy, almost saccharine advertisements put on display throughout the film.  Larrain unabashedly makes it clear that NO is a product of the 80's.

I really enjoyed NO.  It's fun.  It's informative.  It's worldly.  It's my kind of movie.  Loaded with equal doses of humor and drama, this well-crafted movie packs quite a punch.  NO gets a 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this Chilean drama.  Happiness is coming.