Thursday, April 11, 2013

NO (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Pablo Larrain's "No" about the re-election  ambitions of Augusto Pinochet in 1988, stars Gael Garcia Bernal as Rene, an earnest advertising man willing to try anything to change Chile and oust the dictator. Director Larrain who also helmed the wonderful "Tony Manero" (2008) about the influence of "Saturday Night Fever" on Chileans, once again employs the surge of pop culture---this time in the 80s---to evoke an important era for his country.

Bernal is perfect in this role as an earnest man who nonetheless has to remain vigilant, perpetually looking over his shoulder in nervous and oftentimes flabbergasted shock.

Rene gets the idea to utilize images from current pop culture (Michael Jackson, Menudo and MTV) to create an upbeat, if somewhat shallow TV campaign to convince the Chilean public to say 'NO' to Pinochet and to furthermore vote for free elections. The logo campaign that his group comes up with, looks remarkably similar to "The Today Show" symbol: it features the word 'No' with a rainbow curling beside it like a fountain. In one pointed scene, a businessman asks Rene, "Rainbows? Isn't that for faggots?"

Bigotry had not yet vanquished.

"No" is a Chilean cousin of "Argo". Both films illustrate a manipulation of popular culture and American hero worship in media to accomplish humanitarian goals. And in both films the characters are spontaneous, facing each day by the seat of their pants. Rene uses a skateboard when he is not at work to weave through the urban chaos and presumedly, to unwind after dodging Pinochet's drones.

Augusto for his part is shown as a shadow man. He impassively rules from afar inside a TV screen, yet he is responsible for torture, the punishment of exiles, and unconditional loyalty.

The "Yes" campaign makes an attempt to subvert the "No" group, by copying their bright cinematography and inserting the word "Yes". In one segment, they show the opposing group about to squash a toddler by steamroller.

Advertising is war.

Alfredo Castro does a good turn as Lucho, Rene's boss who is pro-Pinochet and very reptilian of eye and heart.

"No" has been criticized in Chile by the head of the "No" effort, Genaro Herrera, for focusing exclusively of the television campaign and dismissing the grassroots efforts of the time, but according to my research, the director asserts that it is an interpretation and he stands by the film.

Indeed, the pop media illustrations in the film are evocative and they clearly show a country wired for change, hungry for democratic moon-walking and cinematic carbonation that can ultimately pour into a free choice.

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