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MIFF Review: No

If you’d asked me pre-fest what film I was definitely not anticipating then I surely would have answered Pablo Larrain’s No. I walked out of the Chilean director’s Post Mortem last year after falling asleep and awaking during a slobbery sex scene that made me admit defeat. I had no desire in returning to that well, especially with No hailed as the third and concluding chapter in Larrain’s Pinochet satire trilogy. Why then did I go and see it after all? Well, put that down to festival fatigue and accidentally going to the wrong cinema! I was supposed to be seeing something else, but I’m almost glad I made the mistake, as I may not have ever discovered No. This is still very much a harsh indictment of Pinochet and his rule, but Larrain has substituted the icy-veined harshness of his earlier films and replaced it with a celebratory, robust, truly cinematic sensibility.

Whereas most films about the overthrowing of a violent dictatorship focus on the men with guns, No looks at it from the view of those charged with selling it to the public. Gael Garcia Bernal stars as the head honcho of a marketing firm leading the charge for the “No” campaign against Pinochet in the 1988 referendum. Filmed in permanently sketchy 4:3 ratio on a pair of rebuilt U-Matic video cameras, the style is initially a confounding concept that appears to be of little more than cool appearances, but it’s actually one that eventually allows Lorrain to blend the 1980s footage (Real? Re-imagined? It’s hard to tell) seamlessly into the narrative. This is very much Chile as seen by the world in 1988 and it’s a style concept that eventually works wonders.

There’s a maturity to No that makes it a marked improvement over his earlier film. The subject matter lends itself a more heart-pounding, rabble-rousing ambition, but Larrain’s treatment is so unique and entertaining that even those who enjoyed his earlier films have noted it as a next step in the director’s career. The 1980s aesthetics are typically comical, and historically accurate, and the Mad Men-esque marketing antics are a whole lot of fun. You’ll never look at “We Are the World” the same.

No will be released in 2013 by Rialto