Sony Pictures Classics may be the most adventurous “indie” studio going at the moment. Sure, when you’re just a small piece of a huge corporation you can afford to take chances, but there are still those that would be happy to play it safe.What does that have to do with No, the political comedy focused on late 80s Chile? As smart, funny, and daring as this Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film is, it also has the distinction of being the ugliest looking film to hit theatres in quite some time.
Shot in an obsolete video format that looks prehistoric when compared to a clip on YouTube, there is reason for director Pablo Larrain’s madness: the film, starring Gael Garcia Bernal as an ad-man called upon to help drive Chilean dictator Pinochet from office, looks just like the TV clips that comprise a third of No’s running time. It seems fitting that it is difficult to decipher what are real clips and what are moviemaking magic in this satire that is less about the truth than using a version of the truth to get what you want.
Bernal is great, as always. The Mexican actor displays the charm that he is known for, while showcasing comedic chops that were heretofore unseen as Rene Saavedra, an advertising wiz who’s called upon by Chile’s opposition group to create a television campaign that will capture the masses imaginations and force them to vote “no” in a 1988 election. Rene creates commercials with happy jingles and mimes, knowing that folks will be more open to suggestion with “ear worms” than angry declarations of right and wrong. When it looks to be building steam, the regime begins its own ad campaign, led by Rene’s business colleague, Lucho (Alfredo Castro).
If this all sounds a bit like a political Mad Men, well, in a way I guess that’s fair. But while Mad Men is lauded for its ability to be unconventional, No makes the TV show look like Charles in Charge by captivating the audience with a great script and wonderful direction. Rarely has a film so ugly been so worthwhile.