‘NO’ review – Advertising Executive vs. Dictator

Lucy Hughes Jones | 17 April 2013 | 1 Comment

Enter the draw to win one of 15 double passes to see No here.


We first see advertising exec Rene Saavedra (Gael García Bernal) pitching a commercial for a new soft drink named ‘Free’ in the new Chilean period film No. His next assignment however, will see him selling something vastly different: freedom for the people of Chile against Augusto Pinochet’s 17-year dictatorship. Saavedra must sway the public to vote ‘No’ in the historic 1988 referendum to deny the autocrat eight more years in office.

So what does he do? He sells democracy to the Chilean people the only way he knows how, like it was a Pepsi alternative to a tyrant’s Coke. ‘Happiness is Coming’ was the mantra of this youth-catering political TV campaign, replete with dancing girls, a rainbow logo, celebrity endorsement and even a catchy jingle.

Coming to Sydney cinemas April 18th, ‘No’ is the third in a trilogy of films by Director Pablo Larraín examining the human cost of a violent dictatorship. Starring Gael García Bernal, the film was a hit at Cannes and was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Film Category last year.

Based on Antonio Skármeta’s play El Plebiscito, it is the ironic tale of a brutal despot who was ousted via the very tools of the capitalist philosophy he championed. When Pinochet seized power in 1973 he replaced socialism with free-market policies, bringing with it the logic of marketing and advertising that finally brought him down.

Shot using videotape used by Chilean news crews in the 1980s, Larraín seamlessly intersperses new material with archival footage of campaign commercials and actual police crackdowns on protestors to heighten authenticity.

Bernal gives a wonderfully understated performance as the creative mastermind behind the resistance, despite somewhat simplistic character development. The Mexican actor is no stranger to films depicting repression in Latin America, playing a young Che Guevara in The Motorcycle Diaries (2004).

But Bernal’s Rene is no revolutionary, with his apolitical expedience rather embodying the coolness of Don Draper, choosing to downplay the bloody realities of the regime’s past in order to ‘make the sale’. This leaves viewers to draw depressing parallels between marketing and politics, noting how durable the legacies of Pinochet’s regime prove to be as the political victory is muted by unchanged power structures.

‘No’ is a riveting portrayal of a pivotal tipping point in Chile’s national identity, and anyone seeking a sly insight into the complexity of democratic elections should say ‘Yes’.

No is in theatres April 18.


Read more from Lucy Hughes Jones at lucyhughesjones.blogspot.com.au.

  • Jordo

    Beutifully written