How far would a person go to provoke a dictator? What risk would they be willing to take, what price would they be willing to pay for the freedom of a country? And how ready is a population for a change of direction? In his Oscar nominated movie “No!”, Chilean director Pablo Larraín tries to answer this question by reconstructing the historical political “No”-campaign which finally made Chile’s president Augusto Pinochet resign in 1988.
The protagonist René Saavedra, an ambitious marketing agent for national TV spots who has returned to Chile from abroad, is no one else but Mexican actor Gael García Bernal – known from movies like “The Motorcycle Diaries” (2004) and “Babel” (2006). Indeed, Larraín could not have hired a more professional and talented actor for this part. Bernal impresses with his acting skills, his expressionist mimics, and his gift of showing emotions like fear, anger, and happiness without needing a lot of words. Silent communication, the magic of images are not only the heart and soul of all PR campaigns, but a tool skillfully used by Larraín, who gave “No!” a more realistic touch with many character close-ups and a digital recording.
Saavedra is a successful PR agent and a single father living in Santiago de Chile, from where Augusto Pinochet rules his country with an iron hand. Finally, the international community has started to put the ruler under pressure by forcing him to agree to a popular referendum in which all Chileans could decide if they still wanted him as their president or not. The opposition is given 15 minutes of broadcasting time to convince the masses that Pinochet does not stand for positive change and modernity (e.g. microwaves!) but oppression and severe human rights violations.
This is where René Saavedra’s personal and political struggle starts. In the beginning, he is still unsure whether to take the risk and join the campaign – until his girlfriend Verónica is beaten up by Pinochet’s army forces in an act of crude violence and brutality. Turning point. We now follow Saavedra’s goal of disarming Pinochet with images, words and emotions in a campaign that turns out to be intriguing, discouraging, hopeful, dangerous and successful in the end.
Apart from the more humorous and entertaining side of the No!-campaigners’ creative process, the protagonist has to deal with a strong enemy – Pinochet’s league, who have hired a spy and do not refrain from stalking and blackmailing the campaigners with dirty methods to carry out their own “Yes!”-spot on television.
Although we know right from the start that Saavedra will win his battle with a successful and persuading spot, director Larraín created a movie that keeps the audience watching and fascinated by the campaigners’ wit and good spirit. It is a struggle reflecting the power of the media as well as the strong will of all those who do not allow an authoritarian state to undermine and destroy their unbreakable longing for freedom. The only great disappointment is that the director did not bother to present the final product, the 15-minute No!-spot that even has its own anthem, worth enough to be shown to the audience entirely – either at the resolution of the story or during the end titles. But not even that is absolutely necessary for a historical decision that has regained its significance and power with an outstanding actor like Gael García Bernal and a fascinating Latin American movie director like Pablo Larraín.