In 1973, General Augosto Pinochet seized control of Chile in a coup d’etat and seven years later attempted to give his dictatorship a legal framework and a modicum of legitimacy through a 1980 plebiscite that put a new Constitution into effect. There have been questions about the legitimacy of that vote ever since, but the new Constitution gave Pinochet eight years to rule before another plebiscite would be held.
Gael Garcia Bernal is “Rene Saavedra” a marketing genius working for an agency in Chile. His employer “Lucho Guzman” (Castro) doesn’t like that Rene is going to put his considerable talents in using media to send a message to work for the “No” campaign. He dislikes it so much he ends up working for the “Yes” campaign. He also keeps tabs on Rene’s activities for the government.
The various factions that have united to support “No” can’t agree on much. But many of them agree they don’t like Rene’s methods and the messages he wants to use to convince people to vote No. He wants “happy” advertisements. He doesn’t want to use sobering, graphic illustrations of what the Pinochet regime has done to the people and how they’ve suffered greatly under his rule. After all, while the economy improved during his regime, the human rights violations that Pinochet were responsible for were horrific.
Bernal is brilliant in his portrayal of Rene. His passion for what he is doing shows in his words, in his actions and in his facial expressions. It’s a tremendous performance that stands out, even in a filmography as distinguished as his. The writing is excellent and the use of humor is done with a very deft touch.
No is a fictionalized account but the enormity of the victory the “No” campaign enjoyed cannot be overstated. Even in the aftermath, which is not shown in the film, Pinochet and his minions pushed through legislation to keep the regime that would succeed them from engaging in prosecution of Pinochet and his followers. Worse yet, they made sure that Pinochet would be appointed “Senator for Life”. Still, it was a tremendous victory for the people of Chile and a major step forward. No captures this quite well.