No

Directed by Pablo Larrain. Starring Gael Garcia Bernal, Alfredo Castro, Luis Gnecco, Antonia Zegers 15A cert, IFI/Light House, Dublin, 117 min

Directed by Pablo Larrain. Starring Gael Garcia Bernal, Alfredo Castro, Luis Gnecco, Antonia Zegers 15A cert, IFI/Light House, Dublin, 117 min

Fri, Feb 8, 2013, 00:00

Directed by Pablo Larrain. Starring Gael Garcia Bernal, Alfredo Castro, Luis Gnecco, Antonia Zegers 15A cert, IFI/Light House, Dublin, 117 min

Pablo Larrain’s obsession with the poisonous regime of Augusto Pinochet has ultimately delivered one of the most peculiar, diverting trilogies in world cinema. Following the revolting, troubling Tony Manero and the more ordered Post Mortem, the Chilean director surpasses himself with a witty, cleverly ambiguous treatment of the 1988 referendum on the dictator’s right to remain in power.

Gael Garcia Bernal plays Rene Saavedra, a young advertising executive hired to work on the No campaign. The resulting commercial will be broadcast once a day in a more obscure corner of the schedule. The operation looks like an exercise in lip service: an attempt to pretend that democracy thrives in this wholly dysfunctional society. Many citizens are certain that the plebiscite will be rigged in the tyrant’s favour. While Rene devises his schemes, his boss (Alfredo Castro) works for the other side.

It’s a canny set-up. At a superficial glance, Rene sounds like a hero: a man struggling to restore sanity to a deranged polity. But there seems every possibility the regime is exploiting him to help bolster its façade. Moreover, the occasional vacuity of Rene’s sales techniques – the same ones he uses to present soft drinks – points towards a potential emptiness beyond any bright new dawn.

Larrain and Bernal make something delightfully slippery of the protagonist. We are never entirely sure if Rene (the son of a prominent dissident) is one of the good guys or an entirely cynical operator. It is something of a surprise to encounter the star in a film by this most uncompromising of directors. But Bernal’s glamour and charm are perfectly tuned for a late-century snake-oil salesman.

No is shot on old-school video that permits the dramatic sequences to blend seamlessly with the commercials. The result is occasionally claustrophobic and distancing, but the picture still comes across as the most fully formed of Larrain’s Pinochet films. Indeed, it makes the superficial Mad Men seem like, well, a commercial. Buy, buy, buy.

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