ADVERTISING, in a post-Mad Men world, is prone to idolization—and in Pablo Larraín's No, the industry gets the rock star treatment. A dramatization of the 1988 Chilean plebiscite that ousted longtime dictator Augusto Pinochet, No specifically focuses on the influence of advertising on campaign politics, with the government and opposition locked in a weekly ad-off on national television.
Shot using the crappy tape that was prevalent in 1980s Cuba, No's intentionally dated, lo-fi look doesn't make for the most attractive film in the world, but it inhabits its subject's era with fluidity, matching historical footage to newly shot scenes with minimal seams. Gael García Bernal plays René Saavedra, the hotshit young creative secretly hired to lead the opposition's campaign to vote "no" on Pinochet. Given today's sophisticated standards, the resultant commercials are hilariously, primitively hokey, but much is made of their importance in the political outcome, raising interesting suppositions on advertising's reach within a modern context.
Somewhat unexpectedly, No isn't the story of a man using a specialized skill set in order to actualize a cause he passionately believes in. It's more like the story of a likeable but relatively politically apathetic man's personal and professional triumph, even as Saavedra is subjected to increasingly sinister threats from the "yes" side. As weird as it is to have the political upheaval relegated to the background, you'll find yourself rooting for Saavedra at every turn, his personal moment of achievement standing under the shadow of a national one.