Directed by Pablo Larraín
Running time: 118 minutes
Tease a white light out into its components and what remains is nothing less than the entire spectrum of visible light. Perhaps then, more than red, white is the proper hue for the solidarity illustrated by this hopeful piece of historical fiction based on El Plebiscito, an unpublished play by Antonio Skármeta. White, in its capacity as a pluripotent waveform, is the banner under which all the colors of a thousand ways of thinking are born. And red was out, in any case, since the retro ¾” U-Matic videotape Pablo Larraín used to shoot NO is notorious for poorly reproducing the color.
One other tendency of the U-Matic tape is to diffuse its color channels out into polycentric rings, especially when it’s exposed to bright white light. It’s a rainbow effect that visually mirrors the prismatically styled campaign run by TVChile ad man René Saavedra (Gael García Bernal). The series of television advertisements he produced enjoined the citizens of Chile to vote NO in the plebiscite. If successful, the vote would end the fifteen year military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
For one month in 1988, Chilean voters huddled around their televisions. The NO spots lit up the airwaves for 15 minutes each day. Saavedra’s challenge was to appropriate the powerful bombast of a Coca-Cola commercial with its music, rebellion and romance, all while quelling the fears of his leftist colleagues and their demands for order, respect and an authentic critique of power. When Larraín cuts away to the result of Saavedra’s miraculous tightrope walk, we’re witness to a full screen cinematic language that’s faster, brighter and louder than that of its narrative container. The film within a film teleports us to a Chilean living room, huddled intensely around a TV.
Where Adam Curtis’ 2002 documentary CENTURY OF THE SELF reads psychological manipulation as a sheerly Machiavellian tool for the preservation of status quo power structures, NO presents a more conflicted, nuanced vision of advertising’s semiotic possibilities.
05 July 2013