Why does the IMDB entry for pablo Larraín’s No give Jane Fonda billing alongside star Gael García Bernal? Because the filmmaker includes a snippet of Hanoi Jane from a 1988 Chilean TV ad in this predictable yet intriguing exercise in Hollywood-style fight-the-man uplift, albeit tempered with an edge of cynical critique.
Larraín’s past two features, Tony Manero (08) and Post Mortem (10), wallowed in the vile and the twisted, centering on charisma-challenged protagonists at the time of and five years after Pinochet’s bloody ascendance. In his latest, García Bernal plays Rene Saavedra, a young ad man recruited to sell the 1988 campaign opposing the extension of Pinochet’s term of office. Saavedra’s a-ha moment: don’t go negative—go sunshine and baguettes. Pablum to the people! (Spoiler alert: Augusto gets the boot.)
Larraín’s interest in ugliness is well established. His choice here to shoot on vintage ¾-inch U-matic video, and embrace its ghosting and blurring low resolution, is more of an aesthetic statement and a formal echo of Saavedra’s popular methods than a you-are-there technique. He also tarnishes his own triumphant narrative: the nation’s enlightened embrace of self-determination is repeatedly qualified by the resemblance between the pro-democracy sales pitch and that for any other product. No reminds us that wherever “freedom” must be sold to the public, a history of complacency, violence, and terror has to be overcome.