We live in a nation of apathy. In the 2010 general election only 65% of UK registered voters turned out to bring in the new coalition government. We were dissatisfied with the result, many believing that our lack of relatable political parties to chose between had led to this undecided government.
Imagine yourself in Chile 1988, you have been living in a dictatorship for 15 years and the opportunity comes along to vote your way out of it; your choice is simply to say yes or no. Sounds easy right? Wrong, the premise of director Pablo Larraín’s film ‘NO’ is that freedom of choice can be restricted by fear.
In an attempt to extend his dictatorship the Chilean leader General Pinochet declared a national plebiscite (referendum) in which the population could vote whether he should remain in power for the next 8 years or step down. To maintain the façade of democracy both sides of the argument ‘YES’ and ‘NO’ were given a 15 minute slot on national television each day for the 27 days leading up to the vote. The film follows a bright advertising executive played by the engaging Gael Garcia Bernal as he struggles against his colleagues to affirm his political beliefs, he chooses to go against the ruling government and strive for the freedom of his people.
Introduced to a team of communists, political campaigners and victims of the dictatorship his task is to unite a group with very different ideologies and find a way to reach the common man. Using the seemingly superficial medium of advertising he attempts to empower his people into fighting against their feared leader. He takes a novel approach, instead of encouraging more fear by reminding the popular of their suffering at the hands of their government, he decides to use his 15 minutes to teach them that they can be happy through liberation.
The first thing that struck me about the film was its stylistic filming. Larraín chose to use low definition, 3/4′ Sony U-matic magnetic tape, used in 1980s Chilean TV. This enabled a clever fusing of real footage from the original broadcasts for sections of the film. It makes the story all the more poignant to know you are watching the real material. However in some points the medium is exploited a bit too liberally somewhat resembling Instagram the movie.
Nevertheless the message is powerful. The weaker element of the film is its attempt to peak into the protagonist’s life and consider how the dictatorship had impacted on his family. This is never really committed to meaning the characters felt a little undeveloped and lacking. The consequences of their alignment with the NO campaign are not fully explored so considering their opposition the undertones of danger seem mild.
Overall ‘NO’ successfully reminds us that we take for granted our ability to choose. Watching it is worthwhile without feeling like you are being preached to. The message of the film is positive, it shows that the nation of Chile has experienced horrors in the recent past but wishes to focus on the ability to have a future led by its own people.