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'No' review: An Oscar-nominated win for more than just political junkies

*** (out of four)

“I know nothing about Chilean politics. I assume it has nothing to do with me. What, Gael Garcia Bernal is in it? Tell me more.” —Your possible initial impression of the drama “No.”

“No,” which was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2013 Oscars, is anything but inaccessible. In the film, based on the true story of the 1988 public vote on whether to keep Chilean President Augusto Pinochet, many of the “no” votes come from young people, mid-level employees and major celebrities. (Big American stars of the time, including Christopher Reeve, Richard Dreyfuss and Jane Fonda, were also on this side.) Many of the “yes” votes come from fringe celebs and executives. Gee, what does that remind you of?

Not that you need to care about politics to say yes to “No,” which is really just about a guy trying to adapt his everyday role for greater impact. That’s Rene (Bernal), a character who unlike those in other Bernal films (“Y Tu Mama Tambien,” “The Loneliest Planet”), is never in a situation that has a chance of turning into a love triangle and/or three-way, so you can stop wondering. Rene is in advertising and hired to work on the “No” campaign to vote out Pinochet, which will consist of a 15-minute, late-night TV spot that runs daily for a month. If you’re in any media field or just have an interest in how words and images affect people, “No” will seem juicier than a lot of other tales of international history.

Confusing subplots include Rene’s imagined conversations (I think) with his political prisoner wife Veronica (Antonia Zegers) and the notion that both Rene and his father have been persecuted in some way by Pinochet’s regime. It’s not clear and few will walk out of “No” feeling like they can now give a presentation on the military controversies, political intricacies and democratic changes in Chile.

This underdog story is entertaining anyway, and at times quite funny—a discussion about a campaign theme of “happiness” yields the question, “What’s happier than happiness?” and folks on the “yes” side believe the “no” side will have its 17 different parties battling “like a sack full of cats.” It’s also honest about the extremes that initially or gradually seep into political ads. Both Rene and this review have the same mission: Making young people want to take action about something they’d otherwise brush off.

How’d I do?

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

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