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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 9 August 2015
In 1988 then Chilean ruler and long-time violent dictator General Pinochet had to hold a referendum on whether or not he should continue in power. The brilliant film No, very closely based on real events, follows the man (actually two men in real life conflated into one for the film) in charge of the anti-Pinochet campaign's advertising which, with 15 minutes allocated to each campaign daily on TV, was central to the referendum.

As the blurb on the DVD cover puts it, No is "the true story of Chile's 'Mad Men' who fought a dictator with happiness". It's also packed full of highly relevant lessons for other referendums, and indeed elections in general.

An early dilemma was whether or not to take part in a referendum which many anti-Pinochet campaigners feared would be rigged against them. Would taking part be doomed to failure and simply give the referendum false credibility? Whether or not to take part in a political system you do not support - such as elections for posts you don't believe in or appointments to bodies you believe should be elected - is a regular political question. Best to take part in the hope of making a difference or boycott and hope that undermines the system?

Another dilemma was how hard to push the record of Pinochet's appalling human rights abuses. For some the idea of having 15 minutes of national TV each day - an unprecedented volume of coverage for the opposition - and not using it to heavily cover those abuses would have been an insult to the victims and a failed opportunity to publicise what had happened.

As the advertising man played by Gael Garcia Bernal, however, points out in the film such a strategy would fail to appeal to the two, almost contradictory, audiences the No campaign had to win over. First, young voters who were heavily anti-Pinochet but who might not vote. How would repeatedly reminding them of the ways in which Pinochet had abused rules to hang on to power encourage them to go out and vote? Second, older voters whose own lives were moderately prosperous and peaceful. What would make them feel that introducing democracy would be a good move rather than a risky introduction of instability? Angry denunciations of all the Pinochet stood for risked driving them away and into voting for Pinochet to stay in power.

The answer was to have a positive campaign, emphasising how good the future for Chile could be with Pinochet gone. One of the film's best scenes is the attempt to turn this idea into a message, searching for the right, happy image for the future. As is said in the film, with echoes of all the worst cliches of advertising: 'what is happier than happiness?' Hence a campaign based on a rainbow, lots of singing and the line 'happiness is coming' rather than on grim reminders of the past. (In real life, the positive campaign message came out of focus group research run with the help of American consultants and funding. As Frank Grear, who was one of those who travelled regularly to Chile, said "[the focus groups] proved that if you want to win, it's necessary to have a moderate message. And of course, we have some people to the far left who say, well, I don't agree with this, so they were put out of the coalition".)

The advertising clips shown in the film (both real and recreated) are almost embarrassingly twee when viewed without knowledge of this campaign logic - and still pretty wince inducing to modern eyes even when you appreciate the cleverness of a strategy that reconciled appealing to two such disparate groups. Everyone can impute their own version of happiness into the campaign's vision of the future (just as Barack Obama's 2008 'Hope' campaign similarly let very diverse groups of voters all project their own versions of hope on to his campaign).

Aside from the political lessons, the film is great entertainment and also a good light on how advertising was adapting to the modern TV world. Watch it.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 23 August 2013
General Pinochet came to power by a coup d'état in 1973 when he overthrew the democratically elected government of President Allende's `Unidad' Popular party. Pinochet was made President and de facto dictator heading a notorious junta that suppressed all opposition through fear, intimidation and murder, or `disappearances as they liked to call it. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher thought he walked on water after `supporting' her war to retake the Falkland Islands from Argentina. But enough of the potted history lesson and back to the film. The plot comes together in 1988 when after years of pressure El Presidente decided to hold a plebiscite on the future of dictatorship.

The question to be put to the people was simple, they were asked to vote yes or no; yes for more of the same and no for a democratic future. Everyone believed that it was a stitch up or that the junta was so far removed from reality having bought their own lies and propaganda that they could not lose so each side was given fifteen minutes a night to state their case, and then the fun began. This film from Pablo Larraín (`Tony Manero' and `Post Mortem') continues his excellent career in making off the wall films that mix Chile's history with superb story telling and inspirational cinema. This stars the brilliant Gael Garcia Bernal as Renee Savadrea who is an advertising executive. He gets asked to head up the `no' campaign, but is more used to advertising fizzy drink commercials and initially says no to `no'.

The no campaign is a loose confederation of a rainbow alliance featuring all the unwelcomed politicos of Latin America, commies, etc. He soon gets pulled in to the irresistible urge to take part in something to redress the harm caused by dictatorship and soon finds himself at the centre of the campaign to bring down Pinochet. This inevitably makes him a tad unpopular with all the official agencies as his talent for an advert starts to win votes, and so does the anger aimed at him increase.

This is shot in a way that makes it look a bit dated and uses original footage from the time, mixed in with the film to create a brilliantly atmospheric and realistic feel. It comes across at times as docudrama, which in a way it actually is. The period attention to detail is excellent, Renee gets to drive a sports car of the day in the shape of a Renault Fuego, and God I remember those things, like a poor mans Ford Capri.

This is just glorious film making the way it should be. Every film that Larrain has made is stunningly brilliant and this just adds to his much deserved praise and thankfully he is now getting theatre runs outside of Chile including London, for which I am very grateful. It is in Spanish with good sub titles that occasionally mix with on screen writing, and has a run time of around 113 minutes. This is one film that I can not recommend highly enough; the only downside is I might have to wait a couple of years before Pablo Larrain gets to make another film.
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on 1 April 2017
This does the event little, to no justice. Garcia's performance was completely submerged underneath the poor filming and production in general. The content is somewhat ruined in its nature by the pitiful cinematography, at times it is hard to watch because the whole piece feels like a homemade movie, even worse, an 80s homemade movie. Whatever equipment those poor crew members had to use did not represent the position that our technology was at within cinema in 2013. The film is a DISGRACE to the Spanish film industry, the content is made practically irrelevant even despite its huge impact on Chile, historically, all because Larrain was actually allowed to make it and worse still, show it.
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on 10 November 2013
"With a title as simple as No, you would not know what to expect but the film is particularly grand-scale in the examination of politics, media, history, and sociology though.

No, starring Gael Garcia Bernal, deals with a tumultous time in Chilean history where Augusto Pinochet maybe booted out of power with the thanks of UN cooperation and a strong, quirky grassroots political campaign that allows doubtful voters to vote "NO" on his controversial political regime. The film is particularly dense and has a particularly liberal slant but it is well-bodied, engaging, provocative, and challenging to the point where turning away one second would make you miss all the great things that No, the film, has to offer.

Among the many pluses especially credit to the adapted script from its unsourced play, Bernal's believable yet stern performance as a quiet mastermind of the advertising scheme of the campaign, many of the film's themes, and the unbelievably well-done cinematography which is rendered to make the film look like it was from the 1980s (grainy film, 3D shimmer effects, titling and credits, and set pieces/clothing) and made for TV. Very artistic yet very political and motivated in its own stance. The film does not enforce the audience to take a particular side but to view, from a wide and rather neutral lens, the issues that arise when the media tries to consult its public, personal emotions, the government, and the censorship boards to come up with the most effective piece of campaigning possible.

It is more engaging than a standard Hollywood drama based on real events in that it does not enforce overtly sentimental ideas or imagery across you but showcases horror and political turmoil in a clinical and rather critical light. The moments where Bernal's character plays with his son and deals with his separated wife feel raw and make you feel compassion and disgust for his isolated persona. In addition, the way the characters convey themselves are grounded much in reality and the cinematography approaches its subjects much like documentary (with the style that it is going with here).

A similarly motivated film, Argo, has much in common with No but Argo suffers from elements of being a little typical of a Hollywood thriller (with its opening and ending) and the excess hype it received at the Oscars, BAFTAs, and Golden Globes.

Thankfully, No does not disappoint and never will especially to those who have a cultural palette and appreciate or are studying advertising, media studies (more importantly in a university course/major like that), and/or Latin American history. If there is one political film people must see back in 2012 or 2013, it is a "yes" for No."
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 18 December 2014
Chilean film-maker Pablo Larrain’s 2012 film provides an interesting ('based on real-life events’) take on the publicity campaigns for the key political referendum (or plebiscite) that took place in Chile in 1988 to determine whether the dictator Augusto Pinochet (hitherto president for 15 years following the US-inspired overthrow of democratically elected Salvador Allende) should remain in power for a further eight years. Larrain’s film mixes real-life documentary footage of the political goings-on of the time (including that of the brutal violence meted out by the authorities under Pinochet) with a similarly-shot vérité (fictionalised) account of the ‘ad campaigns’ run to attempt to persuade the electorate to vote 'Yes’ or 'No’ to an extension of the Pinochet regime – the latter inspired by Gael Garcia Bernal’s fictional PR consultant René Saavedra.

No is certainly not a film to shun controversy. But, whilst its allegedly oversimplified depiction of how 'creative advertising’ was the key factor in the overthrow of a dictator may omit more important factors – such as the extensive mass campaign that took place to persuade large numbers of Chileans to vote in a process that they thought would be rigged – for me, Larrain’s film still works well as a tense, political drama (though not quite as well as Costa-Gavras’ 1982 film on a similar subject, Missing) and as a fascinating depiction of the development of the psychological aspects of political ad campaigns. Larrain is also even-handed in the way he presents the diversity of views held by those on both sides of the political divide and impressively sets up a powerful undercurrent of retributive violence against René and his fellow No campaigners.

Acting-wise, Bernal is always worth watching and he again delivers an impressive turn here as the ambitious ad-man, struggling to balance his professional/political aims with life as a single parent. Alfredo Castro is also particularly good as René’s agency boss (and 'political opponent’) the sinister Lucho Guzman, whilst Antonia Zegers also impresses as René’s estranged partner and political activist, Veronica. By no means a classic, therefore, but still a dynamic and engrossing film, providing an interesting take on a relatively untouched subject.
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on 26 April 2017
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on 8 February 2014
If you want a Hollywood feel-good story told in a completely non-Hollywood way, this is it. Loved Gael Garcia Bernal's portrayal of a brave ad-man who manages to persuade the Left, who have very legitimate complaints of horrific human rights abuses etc, to present a campaign that doesn't mention them at all, and instead focuses on how good things WILL be so long as the Left are voted in.
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on 9 January 2017
Hugely disappointing. Big fan of South American films and Gael Garcia Bernal, but this is almost unwatchable. It is filmed in such a way as to try and enhance the feeling of the period and yet it fails miserably. The cinematography is amateurish and an insult if this is how they think things were filmed in the past. It is hard to follow the story or see the nuances of the performances due to the camera constantly shaking and zooming in and out. I would have laughed if I saw a film student do this, but to come from a supposedly critically warmly received picture is just crazy. Save your money and, more importantly, your time. Too many people have reviewed this film on its worthy subject matter and because we have kudos for some of the principal makers of the film, which has led to a sadly disingenuous high overall review score.
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“No” is a movie that is based on a true story: the 1988 plebiscite or referendum in which the people of Chile could vote yes or no to Pinochet. Here is some basic information about it:

** Produced by Juan de Dios Larrain
** Directed by Pablo Larrain
** Screenplay written by Pedro Peirano
** Premiere: 2012 – released on DVD: 2013
** Run time: 117 minutes

The cast includes the following:

** Gael Garcia Bernal as René Saavedra (in charge of the no-campaign)
** Alfredo Castro as Lucho Guzman (in charge of the yes-campaign)
** Antonia Zegers as Veronica Carvajal (Rene’s ex-wife)

[Since this movie is made in Chile, the dialogue is in Spanish. It is covered with English subtitles. If you do not like to read subtitles, this movie is not for you. If you do not mind subtitles, this movie could be something for you.]

[While this movie is based on a true story, everything did not happen exactly as portrayed in the movie. The director has explained that the movie is a mixture of fact and fiction. But the basic story-line is true.]

Augusto Pinochet and his military junta came to power in a violent coup d'état in 1973. Seven years later, in 1980, the junta promulgated a new constitution that was adopted by a popular referendum. The constitution gave Pinochet eight years to rule the country. Accordingly, his mandate would expire after eight years. In 1988, a new referendum had to be held in order to determine if Pinochet could continue his rule for another eight years or not.

The 1988 referendum was announced, because Pinochet and his junta were obeying their own constitution. Some observers want to believe the referendum was announced because of mounting international pressure against and criticism of the military dictatorship, but this is not the case.

By 1988 Pinochet had ruled for more than ten years. He was so confident he was going to win that he made a surprising offer to the opposition parties: he told them they could organize a no-campaign and that it would be broadcast on national television. More specifically, he decided on the following terms:

During the final 27 days leading up to the referendum on 5 October 1988, two campaigns would be broadcast on national television, one for yes and one for no. Both sides would get 15 minutes per day. Both segments would run in the evening, between 11 PM and midnight. The no-campaign would go first; the yes campaign would go last.

It seems the military planners assumed that many citizens would already be asleep when the two segments would be shown, so it would not matter what was said and done. The military planners made one more assumption: if some citizens would stay up late to watch both segments, then they hoped the yes-segment would be remembered best, because it was the last of the two segments on the air.

The military planners were confident they were going to win, because they controlled the media during the rest of the day. Allowing the opposition 15 minutes per day shortly before midnight was not going to make any real difference to the outcome.

As we know, things did not go the way Pinochet and his junta had planned. He lost the referendum. This movie tells the story of what happened in Chile during the final days leading up to the referendum. While we see people on both sides working on a campaign, the two sides do not get equal time: there is more focus on the no-campaign than on the yes-campaign and more time devoted to the no-campaign than to the yes-campaign.

In the movie, we follow René Saavedra who is in charge of the no-campaign. He works for an ad agency. He is an expert when it comes to commercials. He can sell any product. He can make anything look good. But this time he does not have to sell a traditional product. This time he has to sell a political idea, the idea of a Chile without Pinochet. How is he going to do this?

We also see René at home. He has a son who is about ten years old. He is a single parent. His wife Veronica has left him, because she thinks he is too middle class. She is an activist, who struggles against Pinochet. This means that she often gets into trouble. Sometimes she gets arrested by the police or the military. On the economic level, René's life is fine: he has a house, a car, and a good job. But on the personal level, there is trouble in his life.

In the movie, Lucho Guzman is in charge of the yes-campaign. He happens to be the owner of the ad agency where Rene works. In other words, the two campaigns are being run by two men from the very same company.

In reality this is not true. This is one of the cases where the director decided to change reality. René and Lucho are fictional characters. The two campaigns were not run by two persons from the same ad agency, but it seems the director felt that this change would make the movie more dramatic.

Fifteen minutes does not sound like much. But if you multiply 15 by 27, you have 405 minutes, which is more than six hours. In other words, the same time as two or three feature films. To make fifteen minutes of television every day for 27 days, you will have to be busy. And remember, you must not only fill the time. You must say something that can capture people’s attention, something that can be remembered and understood. This is indeed a difficult task.

What kind of campaign are they going to run? For Lucho, the answer is easy: he will focus on economic prosperity under Pinochet, on order and stability, and avoid talking about political freedom. Let Pinochet rule and we will all get richer. This line will appeal to many citizens.

For René, the answer is not so easy. His first impulse is to focus on the crimes of Pinochet and the military junta and then to say we want no more of that. The people who are responsible for these crimes must be held to account. The criminals must be punished.

But after a while, René realises that this approach is not going to work. Some citizens will love it. But they are going to vote no anyway. What he needs is something that can move voters from yes to no and something that can convince those who are undecided to vote no.

He needs a happy message. Bring happiness to Chile. This is the message he wants to send in his campaign. The people around him do not like this idea, but since René is in charge, he has his way.

In the movie, we see how some segments are planned and prepared, how they are recorded; we also see some of the segments that were broadcast on the air. Some of them are real, i.e. they are from 1988, while others are merely created for the movie. But we are not told which one are real and which ones are not.

The people behind the two campaigns were watching each other very closely. They borrowed ideas from each other and adjusted their own campaign, each side hoping to do better than the other campaign. In the beginning it was clear that the yes-campaign was old and heavy, while the no-campaign was modern and smart. Towards the end it was difficult to distinguish the two campaigns from each other. It was in a way like campaigns for Pepsi and Coca Cola, which can be quite similar to each other.

When the votes were in, it turned out that Pinochet had lost. Here are the numbers:

** Votes cast: 7.20 million
** Valid votes cast: 7.06 million

** Blank votes: ca. 1 per cent
** Invalid votes: ca. 1 per cent

** Votes for no = 3.96 million = 56 per cent
** Votes for yes = 3.10 million = 44 per cent

“No” is an important movie about an important episode in the history of Chile and indeed the world. A lesson about democracy and dictatorship. It got some good reviews: on IMDb it has a rating of 74 per cent; on Metascore it has a rating of 81 per cent; and on Rotten Tomatoes it has a rating of 93 per cent. On the Roger Ebert website, Omer M. Mozaffar gives it 4 out of 4 stars.

I understand the positive reviews and I agree with most of them, but I cannot go all the way to the top and give this movie five stars, because there are some problems. I have already mentioned that the movie is a combination of fact and fiction; that the main character René is fictional.

There is more: while this movie tells the story of Chile in the days leading up to the historical referendum, there are several important facts which are not told here:

# 1. The man who was in charge of the no-campaign did not come up with the happy campaign line by himself. It was not just a lucky choice. Long before the television campaign began, the no-people tested different approaches on different focus groups. This was how they knew that the line with happiness was going to have the strongest effect.

# 2. The opposition consisted of 16 parties which were arch-enemies. They had to learn to agree and to put their personal differences aside. This process took a long time. If this had not happened, there would never have been a no-campaign.

# 3. The no-campaign that ran on television during the final 27 days was not the only factor against Pinochet. The opposition parties had been working hard and for a long time to register votes, trying to tell them that their votes mattered. Without the voter registration campaign, the segments broadcast on television would not have mattered much.

# 4. Chileans did not know the result of the referendum as soon as it was available. The announcement of the final result was delayed, because Pinochet was not sure if he was going to respect the result or not. When he suggested to the inner circle around him that he would ignore the result, they turned away from him. Only then did he realise that he had to respect the result. Only then was the result announced to the public.

[See Olga Khazen, “Four Things the Movie ‘No’ left out about Real-Life Chile,” the Atlantic, 29 March 2013.]

Here is another important question never discussed in the movie: why did the majority vote no to Pinochet on that day? There are several possible answers to this question:

# 1. Because the no-campaign was so good
# 2. Because the yes-campaign was so bad
# 3. Because the people simply did not like Pinochet

We can never know why people voted the way they did. We can only know the result. Only 56 per cent voted against the government which was at the time considered one of the worst in the world. Why only 56 per cent? As many as 44 per cent voted for this government. Why did so many do this? We can never know. My point is that questions such as these could and should have been discussed in the movie. The movie stops when it is clear that Pinochet has lost.

I like this movie and I want to give it a good rating. But as you can see, there are some flaws here and there. The director decided to mix fact with fiction. In addition, several important elements are not included in the movie, even though it is difficult to understand the result of the referendum without them.

The movie delivers a simplified message: make a good television campaign and you will win. The long-running efforts to make the opposition parties come together and to register voters are never mentioned, even though they are a fundamental part of the road to winning the referendum.

I have to remove one star because of these flaws. Therefore I think this movie deserves a rating of four stars.

PS. The following articles are available online:

** Peter Bradshaw, review of the movie “No,” the Guardian, 7. February 2013

** Paul Kendall, “How Chile’s ad men ousted Pinochet: The real-life story behind new film ‘No’,” the Telegraph, 7 February 2013
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on 1 March 2015
Fascinating. According to Adam Curtis, Advertising in America in the 1940's was a new area of marketing. At that time it was called propaganda. The relationship between propaganda and marketing is so evident in this film. One can wish it was not connected but that's like wishing for dreams to come true......wouldn't that be nice.
Great film.
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