NO (R) It's 1988, and the brutal, Chilean dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet (who overthrew the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende by military coup in 1973) is starting to show signs of tempered exhaustion. Pinochet is being forced to allow a referendum on his rule. The public will have a chance to vote either "yes" or "no" on his government, and both sides will get 15 minutes a day on television to air their support or grievances. Unfortunately, the anti-Pinochet side has been given the midnight to 12:15 a.m. time slot to help sway the public to their cause. If Pinochet gets enough "yes" votes (which everyone believes is likely), his dictatorship will continue to smother democracy for another eight years. If the "no" side wins (an unlikely situation), Pinochet will only rule for another year before new elections are held, which could finally boot him out for good.
A hyperactive apolitical advertising executive, René Saavedra (Gael García Bernal), is swayed by politician José Tomás Urrutia (Luis Gnecco) to commandeer the anti-Pinochet ad campaign. Saavedra feels like the wrong choice at first, better equipped to sell the fantasy of guzzling soft drinks to the masses, rather than convincing the populace to swing left and boot Pinochet to the curb. He knows it, as does his estranged wife (Antonia Zegers), a politically active leftie who dumped Saavedra and their son. But Saavedra's manic enthusiasm winds up being perfect for the job, and he crafts a peppy, banal yet effective ad selling the idea that democracy is much more fun than the deadly, earnest images of government terror and oppression that had been used earlier in the campaign. Have a vote and a smile.
Director Pablo Larrain (Tony Manero, Post-Mortem) and screenwriter Pedro Peirano (co-writer of The Maid) create a wonderfully entertaining, wise and sometimes absurd political movie. Much like Argo, another 2012 feature about a little known historical event (at least unknown for many of us in the amnesia-prone United States), No is slippery when it comes to getting the facts straight. The historical reality of ending the Pinochet regime was far more complicated. Regardless, it's a better movie than Ben Affleck's Oscar-winner, and Bernal anchors the movie with a quietly stunning performance. Last year ended up being a surprising one for overtly political commercial cinema, and Larrain's No is easily one of the more engaging productions to seek out.