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No by Pablo Larraín

November 24, 2013


In these times where documentaries receive major awards at film festivals and almost every single film getting a release in theaters cares to inform us that the portrayed events are based on a true story, fiction and original screenplaying are living a bad moment, so it happens that a film which deals with a historical event – Chile’s national referendum in 1988 which virtually put to an end Pinochet‘s regime – gets criticism and blame because it is not faithful – in characters and situations – to what really happened in that fateful year. History is my field of studies but it is not my intention to debate here if NO by Larraín gives a reliable account of the Chilean plebiscite, it is not my intention because I don’t care if it does, NO is a film, if you want to be informed on that historical event read a book or a wide selection of newspaper articles from that time.


NO is a political film, no doubt about it, but it is a political film in the same vein Blow Out by De Palma is and Larraín and De Palma share a common idea in the opening and closing scenes framing their features, both films start introducing the viewer to a guy who works in the entertainment business (John Travolta in Blow Up is a sound engineer in the film business, Gael García Bernal in NO is one of the figures in advertising which Mad Men has made so familiar to us) and both films end with their hero returning to his job after a short though intense commitment to a political adventure. Where Blow Out is a disillusioned and angry view on politics and individual commitment, NO is a disillusioned and ironic film about the state of politics, I wonder if Larraín has read Neil Postman‘s Amusing Ourselves to Death: to my knowledge the first book focused on the impoverishment of the political discourse after it became part of the entertainment business. But no matter if you agree or not with Larraín’s politics, NO’s value goes well beyond its ideas, this film is a monumental achievement in mixing archive footage with film footage, during some scenes it is really hard to realize if we are watching film or archive, from this point a view NO has a deep relationship with another film from the early 80s: Allen’s Zelig. Larraín’s ability to confuse and merge reality and fiction has certainly played a role generating the backlash the film has received but such reaction further proves one of the points of the film: our loss of discernment to distinguish history from fiction and – consequentially – confusing the one with the other.

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