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NY Times Story on No

May 22, 2012, 1:42 PM Cannes Film Festival: From Chile, Pablo Larraín’s ‘No’ By MANOHLA DARGIS, The New York Times CANNES, France — When the young Chilean writer Alejandro Zambra (born 1975) was asked if he ever became frustrated with how his country remains associated with the long, brutal years of the Pinochet era (1973-1990), during which thousands were either executed or disappeared, he answered, “I grew up in a dictatorship, I said my first words in a dictatorship, I read my first books in a dictatorship.” A few days after the Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín (born 1976) stood in a large theater here, basking in the thunderous applause that greeted “No,” his latest movie, I asked if he related to Mr. Zambra’s remarks. It wasn’t a surprise when he shrugged and said, “of course.” “There’s something, maybe, different,” Mr. Larraín added. “I was never exposed to violence,” he said. “I was never exposed to poverty. So, in a way, my life during the dictatorship was comfortable and completely out of any kind of danger.” The son of politicians (his father is a senator “from the right”), he attended private schools and was protected from the worst. This may be why he wanted to cinematically take on this period. “When I realized what happened in this country, I was 15, 16. I felt that I had missed something that a lot of people had experienced, which is called fear and pain.” He wanted to “understand it, not to experience that – not even to tell it, just to expose it.” Weirdly funny and rousing, both intellectually and emotionally, “No” revisits the remarkable moment when Gen. Augusto Pinochet Ugarte was forced out by the No campaign, a center-left coalition that packaged resistance into commercials featuring jingles, a rainbow graphic and wide smiles, the nightmare legacy of the coup d’état vanquished by a brilliant coup de théâtre. In October 1988, a constitutionally required national referendum was held in Chile to determine if Pinochet would remain in power another eight years. Voters who supported the regime voted yes; those who didn’t voted no. The no’s captured 55 percent of the vote, and Pinochet was ousted, although he remained president until free elections were held the next year (his successor was Patricio Aylwin Azócar) and commander of the armed forces until 1998. Mr. Larraín’s movie revisits how the No campaign was conceptualized and produced. Gael García Bernal, in a deft, subtly moving performance, plays Rene Saavedra, a skateboard-riding advertising hotshot who signs onto the No campaign, to the displeasure of his conservative boss, Luis Guzman (Alfredo Castro). Mr. Castro also starred in Mr. Larraín’s two previous features – “Tony Manero” (2008) and “Post Mortem” (2010) – which, with “No,” constitute an unplanned trilogy on the dictatorship. “Tony Manero,” about a violent thug obsessed with John Travolta’s character in “Saturday Night Fever,” is set in 1978 (like Pinochet, the thug will stop at nothing); “Post Mortem,” which opens in 1973 soon after the coup, pivots on a morgue worker who watches the corpses pile up. “No” is an ugly looking movie – literally – for an ugly time. It’s smeary, with little pictorial beauty or detail, but its anti-aesthetic is purposeful and, after your eyes stop hurting, watchable and persuasive. As he did with trilogy’s first two parts, Mr. Larraín has given this one a distinct visual style that serves the story, in this case by shooting with a pair of rebuilt U-matic video cameras. By using the U-matic for the dramatic portions of his movie, Mr. Larraín blurs the line between the fiction and the clips from the real No campaign woven throughout. This has the effect of underscoring the truth of the dramatic section, as if Rene weren’t just creating his campaign but also living it, which he is. “No” is by far the strongest movie in Mr. Larraín’s trilogy and one of best selections at Cannes so far. It’s no wonder Sony Pictures Classics picked it up. It isn’t in the official lineup – and should be – but instead is being presented in a parallel section, La Quinzaine des Réalisateurs (Directors’ Fortnight), which is where “Tony Manero” was first shown. “No” is also Mr. Larraín’s last movie about the dictatorship. “You could make really, really, a thousand movies, there are so many stories, it’s absolutely endless,” he said. “There’s a huge mystery for me about those days.” And while he knows about the horrors and the bodies, the fundamental, terrible mystery of those years, what he describes as an “invisible truth,” remains. “After making three films I didn’t get it, so I’m done.” http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/22/cannes-film-festival-from-chile-pablo-larrains-no/?ref=movies&gwh=3BD0058A37AAB7E7BBD5D2FFE294D2FD