Gael Garcia Bernal and how ad-men toppled General Pinochet

The fall of Chile's military leader has been turned into an Oscar-nominated movie starring Gael Garcia Bernal

"I think most people around the world know how Pinochet came to power," film director Pablo Larrain says.

”But I'm not sure many people know how he was defeated. What happened was a fascinating mix of media, advertising and capitalism.“ Larrain's latest film, No, tells the absorbing advertising story behind the referendum and the strategists that brought down Chile's dictator.

In the late 1980s the leader had looked to soften his image and begun to swap his military attire for demure suits. Under pressure from the US – an ally that had backed his 1973 coup that toppled the democratically elected leftist president Salvador Allende – a vote was called. More importantly, for the first time in almost a generation, the opposition was granted 15 minutes of TV airtime a day in the lead-up to the October date. Their task was to convince Chileans it was time for change – and that they didn't need to be afraid to go out and vote.

The film, nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category at this month's Oscars, stars Gael Garcia Bernal as Rene Saavedra, the silky voiced adman leading the “No” campaign. It's a commanding lead performance from the Mexican actor who rose to international fame in art-house classics such as Amores Perros and Babel, and a welcome return to the pinnacle of Latin American cinema after some questionable recent choices (the less said about 2011's A Little Bit of Heaven, alongside Kate Hudson, the better).

Bernal's character has to come up with an ad campaign that strikes the right note. After battling with politicians who want the TV spots to be sombre reflections of the horrors of the dictatorship, his vision wins out. The focus is to be entirely positive – a reflection of the sort of Coca Cola-embracing free-market economy that Pinochet ironically helped nurture – used against him. The campaign comes up with a multi-coloured, all-inclusive rainbow logo while TV adverts use bright, sunny images and blond, smiling protagonists, accompanied by the slogan that “Happiness is Coming”. The “Yes” campaign is left stymied.

The film uses a fair amount of artistic licence. Characters have been condensed and simplified and Saavedra is actually the amalgamation of real-life characters Jose Manuel Salcedo and Eugenio Garcia, with some family issues thrown in for good measure (his estranged wife Veronica is played by Larrain's wife Antonia Zegers). Both Salcedo and Garcia have cameo roles in the film, but are cast against type, appearing as “Yes” campaign colluders.

The most blatant dramatisation is the role of Lucho Guzman, played by Alfredo Castro, Saavedra's advertising boss who also happens to be one of the junta's inner circle. In real life, the two characters never worked under the same roof. But it provides a genuinely gripping extra dimension to the film; Guzman, star of Larrain's two previous films, is a wonderfully sinister villain.

Larrain is keen to point out that No is faithful to the key facts and how they unfolded. Using a 1983 U-matic video camera to give the film a grainy edge, Larrain cleverly splices drama with news footage. He also shot fresh footage of Chile's first post-Pinochet president, Patricio Aylwin, at a re-staged “No” campaign victory party, cutting it with genuine newsreel.

No is the culmination of a trilogy based on the dictatorship – something Larrain says came about quite unwittingly. He says he was looking to answer how Chilean society “could hurt itself so much”.

The first two films in the series, Tony Manero and Post Mortem – both starring Castro – used the dictatorship as a side-story to explore the complexities of the main characters. In the first film, Castro plays the character of Raul Paralta, a John Travolta-obsessed serial killer; in the second he is an emotionally repressed morgue worker watching the bodies piling up. But, in No, the dictatorship suddenly takes centre stage.

“Maybe those first two movies were about people who were defeated,” Larrain muses. “But No is about a triumph and has an epic quality. As a director, you don't get to tell those sorts of stories often.”

'No' opens in UK cinemas on 8 February

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform