x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Pablo Larrain found strength in saying 'no'

The Chilean director Pablo Larrain again focuses on the brutal military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in his new film No.

The Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal in a scene from the Chilean film No. Courtesy ADFF
The Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal in a scene from the Chilean film No. Courtesy ADFF

"Memory is very important," says Pablo Larrain. "If you don't have your memory, you tend to make the same mistakes again and again." The Chilean filmmaker has made it his mission to help ensure that the events during the brutal military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet don't get swept under the carpet, with a trilogy of films that now culminates in the brilliant No.

Larrain was born in 1976, three years after the violent overthrow of the Chilean president Salvadore Allende; he turned 12 the year that Pinochet's rule was ended by a referendum. The director captured the terror of his dictatorship in two dark and controversial films - Tony Manero (2008) and Post Mortem (2010) - which, while critically acclaimed, were niche rather than mainstream. No is more accessible. More funny. More befittingly populist.

"My previous films were made under my imagination," explains Larrain. "This tells a real story out of a real campaign, with real people that did something that changed the history of my country. We had to tell the story in a proper way in order to deliver it to the wide audience. Not because we wanted to make it wider - we had to."

The Mexican actor Gael García Bernal plays Rene Saavedra, a slick advertising executive hired to lead the "no" campaign in Chile's 1988 plebiscite on whether Pinochet should get another eight years of power. Rather than attack Pinochet's dreadful human rights record explicitly, he devises a campaign simply saying that a no vote is a vote for happiness. It captures the public imagination and results in victory.

"Usually, dictators die in power; fat, rich and shooting people," says Larrain. "This time we had the opportunity to pull him out through the democratic process. And the amazing thing is that we did it with guys coming from advertising." He laughs at the irony. "The advertising logic comes from capitalism. That capitalism is a model that Pinochet imposed. So he created the tools that pulled him out."

Some of the real Mad Men from the "no" campaign appear in the film, and Larrain's use of U-matic video cameras from the 1980s allows their actual work to blend seamlessly with new footage. The film celebrates the men's achievement, but is ambivalent about the turning of happiness into just another product. Bernal likes this.

"Good movies disarm one-sided discourse. They show the complexity of things. And No is a film that goes into the grey zone all along," says the actor. "It is a film, at least for me, that makes me think a lot about what democracy is - about what I vote for."

No screens tonight at 7pm at Marina Mall's Vox 5 Cinema and on Wednesday at 1.45pm at Emirates Palace. Visit www.adff.ae for details.