Review: Compelling 'No' has timeless appeal

Rene Saavedra (Gael Garcia Bernal, right) begins to fear for his son’s safety in “No.”

Rene Saavedra (Gael Garcia Bernal, right) begins to fear for his son’s safety in “No.”

No

In 1988, Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet, due to international pressure, is forced to call a plebiscite on his presidency. The country will vote YES ...

Rating: R for language

Length: 115 minutes

Released: February 15, 2013 NY/LA

Cast: Gael Garcia Bernal, Luis Gnecco, Alfredo Castro, Antonia Zegers

Director: Pablo Larrain

Writer: Pedro Peirano

More info and showtimes »

Nominated for best foreign language film at this year’s Academy Awards (hey, remember them?), and coming only a few months after our own national elections, “No” captures a pivotal moment in Chilean politics — the 1988 plebiscite in which citizens were asked to either keep their military dictator, Augusto Pinochet, in power, or vote to have an open presidential election.

The General, for one, was sure his people would like him to stick around for another eight years. And he had his army and the media to make certain.

Rene Saavedra (Gael Garcia Bernal), a brash young ad exec, felt different.

Recruited by the anti-Pinochet leaders to work on their “No” campaign, Rene brought the same inventive and innovative strategies he used to sell soft drinks and blue jeans to present a different vision of Chile’s future.

This improbable but true story — a bunch of Mad Men nut-jobs given 15 minutes of airtime nightly to get their message out — resonates well beyond the time and place of Pablo Larrain’s hugely compelling film.

Shot on old magnetic videotape — a decision that gives the film a sense of immediacy and a really crummy, archival TV news feel — “No” is rife with drama and suspense.

With international pressure to hold free elections, Pinochet felt compelled to stage this thumbs up/thumbs down referendum, but few people inside or outside of Chile gave the opposition any chance of success.

With his ad firm boss working on the pro-Pinochet campaign, Rene’s decision to join the other side places his career in jeopardy. And as the days wind down and the poll numbers go up, it puts his safety — and that of his young son, and his girlfriend, a serious leftist — in jeopardy, too.

His eyes brimming with intelligence, Bernal is quietly electric as this cocky pitchman who may be getting in over his head.

A political drama, a personal drama, a sharp-eyed study of how the media manipulate us from all sides, “No” reels and ricochets with emotional force.

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