No completes a trilogy about his home country by Chilean director Pablo Larraín, following Tony Mareno (2008) and Post Mortem (2010). Fifteen years after taking control of Chile in the bloody coup of 11 September 1973 General Augusto Pinochet called a plebiscite to endorse his leadership. No leads us through the media campaigns in the shoes of fictional advertising colleagues who direct the opposing TV spots. These were 15 minute segments over 27 nights before the vote. The originals can be accessed on the official website.
The film has the feel of a documentary quite deliberately. It uses archival footage that merges almost seamlessly with the modern takes shot on analogue U-matic videotape in 1.33 (4:3) aspect ratio. Some will find the loss of quality annoying. It certainly blurs the line between the real and the imaginary but that's one of the movie's strengths.
Gael García Bernal stars as René Saavedra who brings his background in TV commercials to the political task that many feel a lost cause from the start. Bernal clearly revels in roles that reflect his personal philosophy such as Che Guevara in The Motorcycle Diaries.
There has been criticism of No because it does not tell the full story of the campaign and exaggerates the importance of the advertising approach with its upbeat 'Happiness is coming' theme and rainbow logo. Some even see it as glorifying the advent of politics as marketing. That might have been the case in Chile given its fifteen years of dictatorship and censorship but western democracies had embraced the political spin merchants in the early 1970s if not long before.
No well deserved its Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Film for 2012.