The stunning referendum that ended dictator Augusto Pinochet’s 17-year grip on Chile is brought to life as satire in “No,” playing again this weekend at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center. In addition, the Film Center will screen the London National Theatre’s production of Alan Bennett’s play, “People.”
The dictator responsible for killing and torturing Chileans is overthrown not by a coup d’état, but a slick advertising campaign in the fact-based fiction film by Pablo Barrain. “No,” the first Chilean film nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar, is the final installment in a trilogy of films by Mr. Barrain about Pinochet. The earlier ones are “Tony Manero” (2008), and “Post Mortem” (2010).
Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal plays René Saavedra, a young advertising man who plans an upbeat TV campaign to persuade the Chilean public that it’s time to get rid of Pinochet. Mr. Bernal does not have to disguise his Mexican accent, since his character René has grown up in exile in Mexico with his parents.
Instead of using the grim statistics on murder, torture, exile, and poverty from the Pinochet regime’s reign of terror, René persuades the opposition to use cheery jingles, song and dance numbers, and comedy for its campaign. The Pinochet regime, convinced that the referendum would merely rubber stamp the leader’s regime, ridiculed the “No” opposition, which was given 15-minute TV segments to make their case to the public, just like the “Yes” party, but hardly on prime time.
Meanwhile, René’s boss Lucho Guzmán (Alfredo Castro, who appears in all three films) develops the campaign for Pinochet supporters, and the two continue with their day jobs producing commercials for soda pop and other products. Skateboarding René lives with his son Simon until death threats compel him to turn the boy over to his ex-wife Verónica, a radical who believes the only recourse is to refuse to vote at all.
Director Larraín uses U-matic video, the obsolete video format known in the U.S. as Betamax, to create a seamless connection between the movie’s footage and the archival shots taken in the 1983 format that it incorporates. Shots of activists like Jane Fonda and Christopher Reeve appear in the archival footage, as well as the younger versions of characters in the current footage. Use of the Academy ratio of 4:3 and vintage mise-en-scene elements complete the retro 80s look of “No.”
The film’s message is that democracy can be sold like soda or any other commercial product. And that’s what happened in the 1988 referendum. Pinochet died in London in 2006 in the midst of efforts to extradite him.
In the new London National Theatre-filmed version of Alan Bennett’s comedy, “People,” also playing at the Film Center this weekend, a penurious, eccentric peeress and ex-model Dorothy (Frances de la Tour), rents out her home to a porn film company instead of turning it over to England’s National Trust. Uproar ensues, of course, and laughter for the audience.
All movies playing at the M.V. Film Center in Vineyard Haven. $10; $7 for M.V. Film Society members. Visit mvfilmsociety.com for times and schedules.