Friday, April 5, 2013

Review in Five Bullets: NO

I've decided to start a new regular feature on this blog - the Review in Five Bullets.  I read a lot of books and see a lot of movies, so this will be a way to slow down my literary and cinematic voraciousness with a little critical analysis.  Of course, once this feature becomes wildly popular it will be known as R5B and will totally be, like, a meme and stuff.

(Speaking of memes, my siblings and I drew my dad's attention to that meme that's been circulating since Easter showing an image of the Risen Christ with the caption "YOLO. JK."  My dad intoned, Ent-like, "The world sure is different now."  We were all ROFL.)

So, this film.  My husband and I live near not one but TWO beautiful and historic art-deco style movie theatres that show a lot of art-house and foreign films.  We saw a preview for No a while ago and have been wanting to see it since.  It actually came out last year and was recognized at a number of film festivals, then received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film.  Now it is finally being shown here, in limited release.

It's a Spanish-language film set in Chile in 1988, and is about the TV ad campaigns that led up to the plebiscite that ousted Pinochet from power.

Five bullets, in no particular order:
  • The movie has a strong documentary flavor, due in part to the use of a lot of historical footage both of the political ads themselves and news footage of political protests, police violence, etc.  The skillful editing of the ad footage in particular was crucial to creating the tension of ideals between the "Yes" camp who supported another 8-year term for Pinochet and the "No" camp who wanted him out.
  • Also lending itself well to the documentary feel was the decision to film with the low-definition equipment and techniques that were in use in TV news at the time.  This meant that historic footage blended in seamlessly with the rest of the movie, and it also contributed to a strong sense of time and place.
  • Speaking of the time and, was 80s fashion aggressively ugly. It seems to have been designed to obscure all natural human beauty.
  • I was interested by the conflict within the "No" camp about the most effective strategy in using their fifteen minutes per day of state-allotted ad time.  One group wanted to use graphic scenes of violence and police brutality, hammering home the truth about the Pinochet regime.  The other group thought that, though this would reflect the truth of the political situation, it would underscore the fear people were already feeling and keep them home on election day.  Instead, this group wanted to use advertising principles to create an "appealing" and "positive" campaign that would inspire and unite.  I've observed this tension within current political and social justice movements today, particularly the pro-life movement - I'm thinking of the discussion about whether to use graphic images as part of anti-abortion protests.
  • Although Rene, the ad man in the "No" camp, is the obvious protagonist, there is a secondary protagonist who adds an extra layer of depth: his young son Simon.  Simon is a constant presence by his father's side but has a bare handful of lines.  He accompanies his parents to a protest march which turns violent;  his father leaves him in the car while trying to intervene in his mother's arrest; he sits and watches the ads being filmed.   At one point his parents have an exchange about how much he understands about what's going on around him, and can't agree.  It is never made clear what he thinks about the historic events taking place, but the viewer is occasionally pulled into his point of view as he silently absorbs them.  One of the film's final scenes is Rene marching in the street with a huge crowd celebrating the results of the election.  Simon clings to his neck, ticker tape in his hair,  and watches as his father's face slowly changes from its habitual stoic mask to tears of joy.  This scene is long and there's no commentary: the viewer experiences it like Simon, as a series of images to be slowly processed over a lifetime.

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