No review

Turning a negative into a positive

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We take democracy for granted in this country, as the recent crime commissioner election debacle showed.

But in Chile during the late ’80s it was a matter of life and death - especially when a referendum demanded by the international community offered people the tantalising chance to oust General Augusto Pinochet after 15 years of murderous oppression.

Having previously shone light on the dark corners of the dictator’s harsh regime in Tony Manero and Post Mortem , director Pablo Larraín grasps the opportunity to end his Pinochet trilogy on a high note.

This he does by focusing on one canny ad man - René Saavedra (Gael García Bernal in leather jacket and rat-tail) - who sees the way to get the right ‘No’ result is to accentuate the positive.

Building an initiative on anthems, rainbows and smiley faces, he galvanises the populace while wrong-footing the opposition.

So much so, in fact, that the hardline government are forced to recruit Bernal’s boss (Larraín regular Alfredo Castro) in an attempt to beat him at his own feelgood game.

It’s a satirical treat to see the tactics used to flog fizzy pop and tacky TV turned towards a seismic, history-altering end.

Stylistically, however, No is something of an eyesore due to Larraín’s decision to shoot his story in U-matic, the prototype video camera synonymous with ’70s news bulletins.

It’s a device that allows the seamless interpolation of real news footage into No ’s fictional construct, not to mention hilarious cameos from the like of Jane Fonda, Christopher Reeve and a Spanish-mangling Richard Dreyfuss.

For the audience, alas, it’s akin to watching dodgy Betamax through cloudy contacts. Visual niggles apart, No ticks all the right boxes and gets a great, understated performance from GGB as the skateboarding cynic surprised to find he has a social conscience.

Remember when Hollywood could treat politics just as intelligently, instead of serving up slapstick fluff like The Campaign ?

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Freelance Writer

Neil Smith is a freelance film critic who has written for several publications, including Total Film. His bylines can be found at the BBC, Film 4 Independent, Uncut Magazine, SFX Magazine, Heat Magazine, Popcorn, and more.