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Film review: No, General Pinochet drama starring Gael García Bernal


In Chile in 1988, the dictator General Pinochet held a referendum asking whether he should be allowed to stay in power. Everyone assumed he would win easily and that he had called the poll to curry international favour.

This is the backdrop to No, the third film (after Tony Manero and Post Mortem) in Pablo Larraín's loose trilogy about Chile in the Pinochet era. It's disconcerting fare in which Larraín's perspective on political events in his homeland is hard to surmise. His disdain for Pinochet (and the generals and bureaucrats who surround him) is obvious but the "hero" here is no Che Guevara.

Gael García Bernal plays a capable and ambitious young advertising exec working for the "no" campaign at the same time as his boss is fighting to keep Pinochet in power.

In spite of the "disappearances" and human rights abuses of the Pinochet era, the "no" campaign is waged as if it is soft drinks being sold, not political liberation. In order to heighten the authenticity, Larraín shot the film on the kind of video tape used by Chilean TV news crews in the 1980s. It really does look like a document from that era.

Larraín shows how idealism and venality sat side by side, how quickly the brutal circumstances in which Pinochet came to power were forgotten and how little seemed to change once he left.