A key aspect in why movies are almost universally loved is their unique ability to capture a moment in time in such a specific manner. Movies are, by design, powerful nostalgia machines; it is their distinct purpose to take something grand, condense it and make it palatable to an audience, so they may relive it over and over again at their leisure. So when an important moment or event like the one depicted in 'No' takes place, it is the purpose of film to transport us back to that place with little more than a push of a button. The case of access is certainly one part of the appeal of film, but more that that, it's the focus. Important, interesting, life-altering moments happen all the time, but rarely do they become part of the zeitgeist or an overwhelming bit of a cultural identity.
Usually, the culprit is one of prescience: We often lack the ability to properly convey the magnitude or importance (perceived or otherwise) of a moment in time before or even as it is happening. As a result, and in addition to news and other first-person accounts, we have come to rely on the altered reality, focus and clarity brought forth by a decidedly well-written script or perfectly executed scene to appreciate what has transpired. In the moment, the importance may be clear, but through the passage of time and the magic of film we come to appreciate, and sometimes better understand, the emotion through different means.
One of the best examples of this in recent memory would be 'The Social Network.' Yes, it's a film about the creation of something as ultimately trite and meaningless as Facebook, but due to the overwhelming influence that trite and meaningless website has had on all of our lives (users and non-users alike), the film resonates not only because of its crackling dialogue, superb direction, and memorable performances, but primarily because it affords us a window through which the we can view a moment in time that many of us almost certainly had no direct part in, but likely experienced in a personal way nonetheless. If you have a Facebook account, or have seen the media's use of the service, you feel like you know a little something about 'The Social Network.'
In a way, the same can be said for Pablo Larraín's 'No,' a clever take on the 1988 plebiscite that ousted Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet from power and instituted the country's new government. Under increasing international pressure to legitimize his regime, Pinochet was forced to hold an election in which the citizens of Chile would vote simply YES or NO on his continued rule. Although the event itself may not be fresh in everyone's minds, and many who have or will watch the film probably weren't even alive when the election took place, 'No' manages to make it all relatable and socially relevant to today by connecting the audience through the universal language of advertising.
Gael García Bernal stars as René Saavedra, an advertising wunderkind who has tapped into the youth market because he is still a part of it – he has a scraggly beard, wears sneakers and jeans to work and occasionally travels the streets of Chile via skateboard. René is asked to join the liberal party's NO campaign in producing their nightly television spots afforded to them by the terms of the election. Despite having an activist father who was famously exiled by the Pinochet regime and an estranged wife (Antonia Zegers) who has left him to raise their son alone, so she can fight against the murderous police state, René's vision for the campaign is one of optimism and hope for the future of Chile.
This puts René at odds with his right-wing employer Lucho Guzmán (Alfredo Castro), who takes part in Pinochet's YES campaign. But it is also where Larraín paints his picture most exquisitely: René argues bitterly with his boss regarding political ideologies, but when the time comes to go to work, he and Guzmán manage to pitch products like soda, microwaves and a vacuous soap opera with the same diligence as they each bring to their political movements. Moreover, René quickly finds himself at odds with the left-wing politicians who take issue with his reality altering campaign that eschews martyrdom and the truth about Pinochet's regime for the chance to sell the public on a manufactured concept of the future. And while this turns out to be the right choice, the implication of the campaign's artificiality is still front and center with its message of hope.
It's no small coincidence, then, that 'No' was filmed in the same video format the original election campaigns were shot in during the '80s and also feature appearances by newscasters and politicians – creating a strange distortion between what is original and what was manufactured for the purpose of the movie. The result is a keenly self-aware drama that depicts a dramatic turning point in a country's history with a dry sense of humor. And by focusing on single aspect of the campaign that helped to usher in such change, the film manages to examine the triumphant upheaval and the artificiality of advertising by condensing the two into a whole new product for the public to consume.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'No' comes from Sony Pictures Classics as a single 50GB Blu-ray disc in the standard keepcase. The sleeve art looks to be new for the Blu-ray release, but it is double-sided, which is a nice touch that makes the product feel like more of a complete package. The film will auto play several previews before heading to the top menu, but they can all be skipped.
As mentioned in the review, 'No' was shot on the same kind of analog video recording as the campaign videos of the '80s. And while this method produces an interesting and effective viewing experience that brings the two thematic elements of the film together by dissolving the "reality" that separates them – and, more poignantly, the line demarcating fiction from truth – it also creates a blurred incandescence to the film that, while deliberate and tonally effective, may be off-putting to some.
In that regard, the crisp, clean image normally associated with the Blu-ray format is essentially thrown out the window, and in its place is a hazy, de-saturated picture that is filled with residual images, halos and most everything else normally associated with the standards for television-based images from 25-years ago. As a result, the image is essentially free of fine detail and texture is all but completely done away with. Colors are muted and tend to bleed into one another – especially whites and other "hot" colors – and contrast is generally quite low, as blacks tend to run and swallow up detail during low light sequences.
While this may not be what we traditionally have come to think of in regard to film and, more specifically, high-definition, the trade off is an unabashed representation of the director's artistic vision, which actually accentuates the film's message and creates a more complete sense of time and place. And although it comes in with a 1.40:1 aspect ratio and has the same overall quality to it as watching a 30-year-old television commercial, the film is still well shot and manages to feel cinematic from beginning to end.
Although the image has been tinkered with, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track has not been – though, considering the majority of the soundtrack's focus in on dialogue and the occasional atmospheric element, any such modification likely wouldn't have been an issue.
Still, the mix makes the most of the dialogue by ensuring it sounds crisp and clear in every scene and that it plays nicely with other elements when need be. While much of the film is focused on the back and forth between individuals, there are a few sequences where crowd noise and some additional sound effects are required. In those instances, the lossless track manages to shine, providing an immersive listening experience that utilizes the rear channels to create a real sense of commotion that enhances the visual element on-screen.
During the celebratory moment that quickly turns negative and demonstrates the power of Pinochet's police state, the sound is stretched further than it is anywhere else in the film. This helps to make the moment stand out and become more memorable, but it also illustrates how purposefully subdued the rest of the film is, and how using sound sparingly can be just as effective as making a loud bombastic statement.
Regardless of an individual's knowledge of the events that led to the successful ousting of a despot, 'No' speaks to its audience in a manner nearly everyone can relate to by making the conversation as much about the efficacy of a smartly manufactured advertising campaign, as it was about a country's desire for democracy. The film's historical context will likely earn it a place next to such recent fare as 'Argo' and 'Zero Dark Thirty,' but there's an underlying and wry sense of self-awareness that sets it apart from those movies. Ultimately, the film is enjoyable on a number of different levels, one of which is certainly its unique visual style. Although a few more special features would have really made this an excellent package, 'No' still comes recommended.