After Tony Manero and Post Mortem assayed General Pinochet’s dictatorship through the lenses of discomforting murder drama and icy satire respectively, Pablo Larraín’s third take on Chile’s oppressive past adopts a different approach. With No, Larraín practices what the film’s protagonist – self-assured advertising wunderkind René Saavedra (Gael García Bernal) – preaches: to bring a political message to the masses, you have to seduce them.
It tackles a pivotal moment in Pinochet’s rule – the 1988 plebiscite that would ultimately force out the General’s military-backed government – in unabashedly entertaining fashion, mirroring the way its characters formulate their anti-authoritarian media campaign with crowd-pleasing in mind. As in No’s thematic forebears, Larraín evokes the era smartly, with period-appropriate mise-en-scene and an artfully dated visual style acting as an evocative backdrop to the film’s triumph-of-the-underdog narrative. But just as Saavedra’s appropriation of advertising grammar serves a political end, No’s surface conventionality sweetens a subversive core, which shows through most clearly in its downbeat coda.