Socialist Worker

Pablo Larrain's No: Could we beat dictators if we were a little happier?

by Dave Sewell
Issue No. 2339

How do you overthrow one of the world’s most notorious military dictatorships? For Chilean director Pablo Larrain, the answer seems to be with the power of happiness.

No is his third film about Chile under dictator General Augusto Pinochet. It stars Gael Garcia Bernal, the man once best known for playing a young Che Guevara. Now he’s cynical advertising executive Rene Saavedra.

It is 1988 and Pinochet calls a referendum to legitimise his rule.

The coalition calling for a no vote get 15 minutes of air time and Saavedra is reluctantly drafted in to help.

He pours scorn on the first pitches because images of repression and poverty “don’t sell”. Instead he brings the cheese and optimism of advertising to the struggle for democracy.

Real members of the No campaign took part. The film uses real archive footage. And it enthusiastically endorses their version of history.

“That’s why they won,” said Larrain himself. “They didn’t attack Pinochet.

“They just promised a better and nicer future.”

But happiness isn’t more powerful than anger, nor adverts more powerful than struggle.

The legacy of Pinochet’s regime cast a long shadow over Chilean politics for years. In some ways it is only the new protest movements that have grown up over the past 18 months that have seriously challenged this.

Yet the only glimpse we get of this world in the film is from Saavedra’s estranged wife.

A diehard activist, she initially attacks him for narrowing opposition to the regime’s terms. It’s hard not to see her point.


Directed by Pablo Larrain,

out 8 February

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Article information

Tue 5 Feb 2013, 17:08 GMT
Issue No. 2339
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