No **** (out of five)
No is not the fastest-paced modern-historical-political thriller you will have seen in a while; that prize will surely belong to Argo, and can sit next to that film’s many Oscars. But there’s a reason that Pablo Larrain’s film, set amongst the plebiscite for Pinochet in Chilé in 1988, was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 2012 Oscars, and that’s because it’s incredible filmmaking on an incredible subject. It’s not easy material but it’s truly fascinating, and expertly done, albeit not in a way that could even pretend to absorb a massive world-wide audience.
How much do you actually know about Chilé? How much do you seriously know about Pinochet? If, like me, your answer is “Not enough”, this is the film for you — but wait! Essentially, your history lessen will be filtered through a Mad Men lens: how the Plebiscite on Pinochet was fought through Television Advertising. And yes — this is a fascinating inherent concept for a Feature Film.
Larrain’s huge conceit is to shoot the film – in its entirety – on the same videotape system that was available to his actual subjects in Chilé in the late eighties, which is to say, crappy visuals all around. The genius of this approach is that when he combines his footage with the actual footage – meaning crappy videotape – of his subjects, it blends together seamlessly. Beyond seamlessly. It’s like you’re watching someone go back in time and make the cinema verité documentary of real history, with the technology of the day. It’s an astounding illusion. Gael Garcia Bernal gives an excellent performance as the ad man trying to sell the country the end of a dictator, but all the cast are completely believable.
The less you know about Chilé’s modern history, the better for your experience of watching this remarkable film; I didn’t know how things were going to turn out, and the suspense had me clutching my armrests like I wanted to strangle them. Along the way, No, eschewing music, traditional pacing, pretty images, and what we might think of structure, can, at times, feel a little slow and meandering; stay with it. It’s intensely rewarding.