Movie Review: “No”- A Head in the Clouds Historical Drama

Written by Jasmine Steffler April 15, 2013

Our decision making processes are largely what define us as individuals and as a culture. Whether we wait for encouragement, inform ourselves about all possible alternatives, or simply get to a critical point and pick yes or no out of the proverbial hat, we can learn a lot about ourselves by how we decide. The historical drama “No” by Pablo Larrain examines the decision making process of Chileans in 1988. The choice is simple: do you or do you not want Pinochet to continue in power for another 8 years?

No Stopping Now

Choosing, or not choosing Pinochet, seems like a simple enough choice, however, the issue becomes more complicated with the growing popularity of advertising and popular culture in Chile at the time. The film follows an advertising executive named René Saavedra played by Gael García Bernal who is in charge of the “No” (anti-Pinochet) campaign. René decides early that he wants his team to fill up the allotted nightly 15 minutes with positive, future oriented messages rather than focusing on the still prevalent tyranny that exists in the country. René wants to avoid eliciting fear in citizens at all costs; because for him, a choice is not a choice if it is made out of fear. Bernal is a decent choice for the main character, although at some points he seems to convey a certain moody teenager quality when the campaign is not going exactly his way. This seems kind of unnecessary for a character whose main goal is to promote freedom and optimism.

René spends the whole film being pretty inflexible about what can and cannot be included in the “No” campaign. His strong resistance even ends up putting his family in a precarious position, particularly his young son who is attached to his hip. The fact that he doesn’t cool his hardheadedness even after the executives on the side of Pinochet threaten him at his house on multiple occasions seems slightly far-fetched, especially for someone who has a strong affection for his son. However, the increasing tension between the two sides makes the film compelling, and while it is quite difficult to see any redeeming features about the “Yes” campaign, it’s scary to think that some Chileans could.

Don’t Look Back

The most interesting aspect of the film is the varying viewpoints that exist, even among the team members working together on the “No” campaign. While René wants to focus only on the potential of the country, other executives see his methods as ignoring all of the problems that Chile still faces. One older man actually walks out of a meeting calling René a series of expletives basically connoting that he’s a young punk that knows nothing about the painful history of his country. Indeed, René is extremely resistant to even alluding to anything negative in his ads, almost to a fault. Specifically, he angrily opposes another executive’s suggestion to include the interviews of women who have lost brothers and sons to the tyrannical forces of the country. The filmmaker of the ads is the one who ultimately insists upon including this tyrannical side, believing strongly that honesty of this sort is acceptable and required to obtain “No” votes.

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Ultimately, René’s strong insistence on maintaining lively, optimistic “No” ads is what ensures the end of Pinochet’s term. While René is aware that his campaign cannot immediately promise security or comfort, he knows that both can only be possible when citizens are making decisions from a place of optimism rather than a place of fear. The acting is quite good, however, René’s character could benefit from being better carved out. While most of the film centers around the advertisements themselves, they are compelling and touch on all of the issues that Chile is facing at the time. “No” shows the importance of sticking to your guns, even if your only defenses are rainbows and butterflies.

My Rating: 7/10

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