No - Review by Stu Coote
In 1988, Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet bowed to international pressure and consented to a referendum, asking Chile whether his rule should be extended for a further eight years. The referendum was simply yes or no, and took place after just 27 days of campaigning, with each side presenting a nightly 15-minute televised address. No, the latest film by Pablo Larrain, follows the campaign of the anti-Pinochet camp, headed by Rene Saavedra (Gael Garcia Bernal), an advertising executive who has just returned home from the United States. For me, the joy of cinema is discovering stories like this, which put historical events in a human perspective in a way that might never otherwise have been appreciated.
Be warned that this film does contain some very confronting images, not least of which are the 80s fashion and hairstyles. Like Argo last year, No doesn’t hold back when it comes to handlebar moustaches, perms and knitted jumpers in flamboyant colours. Now if pastels and corduroy ain’t your bag, I suggest you keep on walking. For everyone else, settle in for a disturbing waltz down memory lane. Such was the skill in recreating the late 80s that you could be forgiven for thinking it was made in the era.
Unfortunately, in trying to maintain an 80s aesthetic, the film sacrifices some of its emotional impact. The film is shot almost entirely like a documentary, where the camera is predominately handheld and the picture quality is intentionally poor, sometimes looking like a VHS tape recording that has been converted to film – think Blair Witch Project without the crying and running around. Horror and action films both employ the technique because it lends more reality to the scene. The Bourne Identity is a perfect example of this; during the combat scenes handheld cameras are used in order to show the speed and brutality of the fights. However, this technique bothered me in No because the film never suggested a reason for being shot this way. For the entire film, I felt aware of the off-screen cameraman, who was necessarily filming the actors within a metre or two of their physical space. Perhaps this could have been remedied simply by introducing the filmmakers into the story, as actual characters who wanted to follow the campaign. Then, perhaps, they style would have been easier to accept.
The documentary-style shooting also affected the tension of the film. On several occasions, the anti-Pinochet campaigners were being followed by shadowy military and police figures. But again, because the camera only allowed a few moments of engagement, it didn’t convey the fear and anxiety that the actors were attempting to exude. I admire tense political dramas such as All the Presidents Men, The Lives of Others and Secrets in Their Eyes because they know how to ratchet up the stakes for the characters as they near their dramatic climaxes. By mere virtue of the camera technique, the shots can afford to be more patient.
That being said, I can overlook these issues because the story is entirely compelling and, to the filmmakers’ credit, uses an incredible amount of stock footage, which helped demonstrate just how cruel things were under the latter years of Pinochet’s rule. Perhaps a better policy here would have been to cut from these shots to regular cinematic sequences rather than trying to mimic them with clunky handheld filming.
I know I’m coming across as though I didn’t like the film. Let me assure you it is a must see and no surprise that it was nominated for best foreign film at the Academy Awards this year.