“We have a product that’s different from the competition, that invites you to be young, that invites you to be brave. If you’re brave, you’re free, I think.”
In 1988, General Augusto Pinochet had ruled over Chile for fifteen years, after heading a military coup. Under international pressure to legitimise his dictatorship, as if such a thing really can be done, a referendum was held to decide if the people would let Pincohet continue in power, “Si” or “No.” For the twenty-seven days of the campaign, each side had fifteen minutes of airtime on all TV networks to make their case, one side after the other – the “No” side went first.
This is a bit of a heavy subject for a comedy, but it works – the absurdity of the situation is clear, the stakes are set absurdly high, the battleground is set inside people’s homes, and the choice of weaponry is advertising. What is more, in charge of the campaigns are two people who work at the same agency: working for the “No” side is René Saavedra, played by Gael Garcia Bernal of “Amores Perros” and “Y Tu Mamá También,” who is portrayed as having done rather well out of the material wealth that the Pinochet regime helped create, a toy train set taking centre stage among VHS tapes, microwaves and a Renault Fuego coupé, but because his father was among those tortured by that regime, taking this assignment is worth the risk.
Some of the advertising created for the “No” campaign is very similar to the Coca-Cola and Pepsi campaigns you would see in the 1980s – all young types with white teeth, living life to the max, free to live according to their conscience, and free to say “no,” as evoked by the theme song. This is evoked by the real ad that begins the film, for the appropriately-named Free Cola, also a real product. A criticism of the film “No” was that it ignored the grass-roots support for the campaign in favour for concentrating on semiotics and symbology, and indeed the fight between highlighting past atrocities, against promoting the idea of a joyous future, is an early tension, mainly resulting in the old telling the young to go fuck themselves. However, the approaches of the advertising shown in the film, all archive footage from 1988 that is inserted into the story, shows the “Si” campaign forced into a literally reactionary position, attempting to use parody in a backfiring attempt to expose the other side.
“No” is not shot on film, but on U-Matic video tape, a format often used by television programmes in the 1970s and 80s, particularly in news reports. The lightly smudged colours create nan impressionistic look to the whole film, while allowing the reconstructions to blend seamlessly into archive footage. These large tapes also become a plot device, as all the “No” campaign leave their base with tapes in their hands, to prevent their latest ads from being intercepted – enough parked cars and shakedowns appear to confirm this is more than just a game.
“No” is worth seeking out, if you are looking for a story feels both true and out of nowhere – it makes you imagine what kind of film could be made of the gay marriage vote in Ireland, or of the Brexit referendum in the UK. When your future is at stake, and feelings are running high, comedy will be found.