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11 February 2013

No Contest

After the hectic nature of the rest of my weekend, I wasn't sure whether I could face going to the cinema yesterday afternoon, but I really wanted to see Pablo Larraín's new film No, and I wasn't sure when I would next get the chance to make a trip to the Soho Curzon. The big screen was almost full for the 1 pm performance, thanks to the string of glowing reviews and Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film, perhaps.

When I was describing the film to my friend on Friday, I asked if she had heard about Gael García Bernal's new film about the 'Mad Men of Chile,' which was all I had remembered from the poster I had seen, and she said that she hadn't, but that she did think he was in a film about a dictator. It turned out that we were both right. The movie tells the story of the advertising executives and PR spin doctors whose campaigns helped to oust General Pinochet by persuading the people of Chile to vote against him in the 1988 referendum, which was forced on him by international political pressures.

García Bernal plays René, a charismatic and talented young ad man, who is seduced away from the glamorous world of fizzy drinks commercials to work on the anti-Pinochet "no" campaign, much to the annoyance of the boss of his advertising agency, who is running the "yes" campaign. Each side is allowed 15 minutes of TV air time to run their campaigns each night for 27 days, and although René and the "no" team are convinced the results of the plebiscite will be fixed and that their work is pointless, they set about their efforts to inspire hope and dreams of a better future in the hearts of every Chilean. Their campaign literally involves sunshine and rainbows, at times, and is boosted by the incredibly catchy jingle, Chile, la alegría ya viene. I was half expecting them to use A-ha's The Sun Always Shines on TV. But to what extent will the "yes" campaign and Pinochet's cronies go to ensure that the Chileans say "no" to the "no" campaign? René is brave and idealistic, but he also has a young son and an estranged wife (Antonia Zegers), who is often seen getting into all sorts of political trouble.

The story of Pinochet's removal isn't one I was familiar with, and although I knew what the outcome would be, like Argo, Larraín's movie played out as a very tense and engaging political thriller, with a few more light-hearted, Hollywood/ad industry moments. (García Bernal's character's hair and facial hair also bear a striking resemblance to Ben Affleck's in Argo, but that is somewhat beside the point.) García Bernal is so beautiful I could quite happily sit and watch him for two hours in pretty much anything, but he was really good in this film. I have to admit that I got a bit confused by the other characters' names, but René's boss and a couple of his "no" co-workers also put in good performances. Shot on film that would have been used on Chilean TV in the 1980s, No is grainy and gritty, punctuated with archival footage, including clips of Jane Fonda, Christopher Reeve ("Superman!!!" the caption reads) and others telling the Chileans why it was so important to vote no. It's a really enjoyable film, striking the balance well between hard, political subject matter and the slightly frothier business of trying to sell the people the life they don't yet know they want.

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