Gael Garcia Bernal
Directed by Pablo Larrain
What if you could stomp on your stronger, meaner, better-financed opponents with a smart ad campaign? No, I'm not talking about the Oscars. I'm talking about No, a stinging, brutally funny satire of modern politics from Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larrain that ads up to lesson on how to defeat a despot with a Smile button. Ad exec Rene Saavedra (Mexican star Gael Garcia Bernal is stellar) is thrown when his boss Lucho (Alfredo Castro) hands him the unenviable assignment of taking on Gen. Augusto Pinchot, whose iron hand crushed every democratic impulse out of Chile. From 1973, when the CIA goosed him into power, until his ouster a quarter century later, Pinochet supervised a reign of terror, abductions and assassinations. Rene, the son of a Chilean dissident who was exiled by Pinochet, is tasked with developing an ad campaign to rouse the people to vote "no" against Pinochet in a 1988 plebiscite. Good luck with that. Pinochet has powerful backup. Veronica, (Antonia Zegers), Rene's activist former wife and mother of their son Simon (Pascal Montero), warns her ex that he's fighting a dangerous uphill battle. But Rene is a Latin-American Don Draper. He develops a cheesy, upbeat campaign that plays like a soda commercial. At first everyone laughs. Then the campaign catches on. No laughs. Just victory. Based on a play by Chilean journalist Antonio Skármeta, No – with tight, fluid script by Pedro Peirano – is guilty of oversimplification. The issues came down to more than ad campaigns. Larrain shoots the whole film on low-res video to match up new footage with the original commercials. Nice touch. And his focus on the marketing of politics is as timely as the next election. Larrain, the son of Pinochet supporters, is adept at skewering hypocrisy on the right and the left with equal brio, as he did in the first two potent first chapters of his Chile trilogy (Tony Manero, Post Mortem). Nominated by the Academy as the year's best foreign-language film, No grabs you hard, no mercy, and keeps you riveted.