“No,” one of the best-received and most satisfying movies at Cannes 2012, which also screened in the Toronto and New York Film Festivals, comes from Chilean director Pablo Larraín and Mexican producer-star Gael García Bernal, who collaborated on a novel recreation of the 1988 ousting of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet after 15 long years of oppression. Sony Pictures Classics acquired all North American rights to the $2-million Participant Media-funded picture, which earned a rousing standing ovation when it debuted at the Director’s Fortnight. Larraín and García Bernal were nervous before the showing, they admit in our flip cam interview below.
García Bernal (“Babel,” “The Motorcycle Diaries”) gives a powerful, moving performance as courageous ad executive Rene Saavedra –under constant threat from Pinochet’s thugs– who spearheads the “happiness” ad campaign that led to an overwhelming victory for the coalition opposition (or “No” party) in the 1988 elections that were forced on Pinochet by the U.S. government. (“Happiness is coming if you vote ‘No’!” ) 97% of the electorate turned out; the “No” party won 57% of the vote.
The film is a fictionalized version of a true story; each character, García Bernal told me, is based on several real people. Garcia Bernal leads a sprawling Chilean cast including Alfredo Castro, Antónia Zegers, Marcial Tagle, Néstor Cantillana, Jaime Vadell and Pascal Montero. Two of the actual Chilean “Mad Men” of the time play bit roles in the film.
“It’s a bio-film,” explains García Bernal of the docu-fiction hybrid which deploys real footage from the campaign and juxtaposes a real newsman shot now with footage of him 24 years ago. This is why Larraín took the aesthetic gamble of deploying U.S.-bought U-matic video cameras of the period to make the film look as grittily authentic as the archive footage. While the lens flares and other primitive aspects of the cinematography are distracting at first, the decision pays off by placing you there and then, without distraction. Hopefully audiences will not be put off and go along for the ride. SPC believes in the theatrical experience, which is what the filmmakers wanted. The film will look best on the small screen.
“It’s a universal story about humans and politics and television,” says Garcia Bernal, “and publicity and democracy.” Larrain and Garcia Bernal believe the film is a universal story, and Sony Pictures Classics agrees with them. “This movie is a masterfully engaging and energetic drama about politics and power, a tonic for the brain that is also a major entertainment,” says SPC. “‘No’ establishes Pablo Larrain as a major international director and Gael Garcia Bernal gives his finest performance.”
Garcia Bernal has been running his production company Canana with “Y Tu Mama Tambien” co-star Diego Luna for years now; they’ve made 19 films to date, including Larrain’s previous two films and their biggest breakout hit, “Miss Bala.” Garcia Bernal is not happy with the choices he has of projects; “it’s not like I pick between this amazing one and this amazing one,” he says. “I only want to do what I like.” Garcia Bernal is starring opposite Robert De Niro in a drama about Bosnian war veterans, “Hands of Stone,” and hopes several pictures get financed, especially Martin Scorsese’s in-the-works Japanese project “Silence,” which Daniel Day Lewis reportedly may want to do as well.
Larraín completes the final film in a trilogy that started with “Post Mortem,” about a city morgue clerk, and continued with “Tony Manero,” about a Travolta impersonator, which also played the Fortnight, in 2008. Pedro Peirano (“The Maid”) wrote the screenplay from an unproduced play, “Referendum,” by Antonio Skármeta, who also wrote “The Dancer and the Thief,” which was nominated for an Oscar. Michael Radford’s “Il Postino” is based on one of his films about poet Pablo Neruda. Larrain’s producing partner at his ad, film and TV production company Fabula is his brother Juan de Diós Larraín; they brought in Los Angeles producer Daniel Dreifuss, who approached Participant’s Jeff Skoll and Jonathan King for financial backing on the $2 million film.