No – Bring Me Sunshine
Boasting a Google-defeating title and a storyline largely revolving around a plebiscite, Pablo Larrain’s No isn’t going to be confused with the latest JJ Abrams anytime soon.
But its amazing VHS aesthetic – which presents a hazy, oversaturated eighties that barely escaped from an all sucking camera – has rather more in common with the Hollywood lens flare addict’s style than might first meet the eye…
Telling the story of Chile’s hard won 1988 vote on whether or not to accept brutal military dictator Augustus Pinochet’s rule, No focuses on Gael Garcia Bernal’s ambitious advertising exec Rene, who risks the attention of the authorities – and the alienation of an earnest and frequently disappeared opposition – by marketing the campaign against Pinochet as if it was a soft drink. And Larrain falls in line with a remarkable visual approach. Filmed in an authentic 4:3 aspect ratio, Larrain’s movie captures some of the most gorgeous 80’s sunshine since Crockett and Tubbs went to South Beach. It’s a film obsessed with 80’s surface and image and the political context this aesthetic is twinned with makes for an absorbing experience. Here’s a trailer.
Like the era it depicts, there’s more to No than meets the eye, however. Watching Garcia Bernal’s Rene skateboarding down Chile’s sun soaked streets is a weirdly hypnotic experience that recalls Marty McFly’s ride through Hill Valley at the start of Back to the Future but these scenes – where he seems himself to find a kind of peace – were the closest I came to understanding this difficult to read character. Rene is estranged from his activist wife, bringing up a young son and a central figure in a cultural and political epoch. But anyone who’s seen Garcia Bernal in Y Tu Mama Tambien or Science of Sleep will know this is an actor with an interest in internalised characters (he even brings a little mystery to that advert for razor blades). And just like the silhouette dancing, water faucet-spraying Coca Cola ads and Tom Cruise movies that act as his inspiration, Garcia Bernal’s character feels slightly unreal. When Chile is so vividly portrayed throughout you almost wonder if Rene – rather than Chile's beautiful, shackled backdrop – might be revealed as a cardboard standee…
Featuring a great repeating gag that Spinal Tap fans will enjoy, with a beguilingly strange stillness at its heart and – for clarification – a hugely committed performance from Garcia Bernal, No is a look at the 80’s from a startling vantage point. It’s nominated for the Best Foreign Langue Movie at this year's Oscars and will probably be beaten by Haneke's Amour but earns its moment in the sunshine.
'No' is currently screening at The Showroom Cinema, Sheffield.
Review by Rob Barker