In October 1988, a national plebiscite to extend the military rule of then-Chilean President Augusto Pinochet was voted down by 56 percent of the electorate. This transformational event has been re-imagined 24 years later in a film named after the “No” coalition of 16 political parties that led the opposition campaign.No is the third and final work in a cinematic depiction of the period of Pinochet’s rule (1973–1989) by Chilean director Pablo Larraín, 36. The first two were Tony Manero (2008) and Post Mortem (2010).
The 110-minute film, starring Mexican actor Gael García Bernal, is based on Plebiscito, an unproduced play by Chilean novelist Antonio Skármeta about René Saavedra, a young advertising executive who spearheaded the “No” campaign and managed to outflank the pro-Pinochet forces, who were outspending the opposition 30-to-1, with a shrewd messaging strategy that mobilized almost 4 million supporters.
The film’s principal financier was Participant Media, a U.S. company that funds “compelling, entertaining stories that also create awareness of the real issues that shape our lives,” according to Participant’s website. Larraín and producers Daniel Dreifuss and Juan de Dios Larraín, Pablo’s brother and co-founder of their joint production company, Fábula, tracked down archival video of the original television spots and interviewed participants from the “No” campaign. To give the film an authentic 1980s look, No was shot in its entirety with a 1983 U-matic video camera.
The filmmakers’ meticulous efforts have paid off. No won the top prize at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival’s Directors’ Fortnight section, and has been chosen to represent Chile for Best Foreign Language Film at the 85th Academy Awards in February. The film, which debuted in Chile and Mexico in 2012 to wide praise, will be released in theaters in the United Kingdom, the United States and elsewhere in the hemisphere in 2013.
Larraín, who was 12 at the time of the plebiscite, believes the film conveys a timely message to young Chileans—especially as Chile gears up for the November 2013 presidential election—about the power of politics to change society. “Art, like political campaigns, has the power to shape our views and expectations of the world,” he says.
Watch a trailer for No below: