Sunday, March 17, 2013

No [2012]

MPAA (R)  ChicagoSunTimes (4 Stars)  AVClub (B+)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
Chicago SunTimes (O.M. Mozaffar) review
AV Club (M. D'Angelo) review

No [2012] (directed by Pablo Larraín, screenplay by Pedro Peirano based on the play by Antonio Skármeta) is the 2013 Academy Award nominated film (for Best Foreign Language Film from Chile) about how a previously terrorized and initially woefully disorganized opposition was able to win defeat Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in the 1988 Referendum on his rule that he himself had called, set the rules for, and had fully expected to win.

The proposition was this:  By Chile's 1980 Constitution, every 8 years Chile's voters were to be given a simple "Yes" or "No" vote on continued military rule in Chile.  In 1980, Pinochet's military government "won" handily.  But 1988 had come and "hope springs eternal."  For a month before the election, both the "Yes" and "No" campaigns regarding continued Pinochet rule were to be given access to 15 minutes of otherwise state-operated television.  (So in effect, even during the referendum campaign, the "Yes" camp had 23 hours and 45 minutes daily to promote its point of view, while after 15 years of being kept off the air completely, the "No" camp had 15 minutes a day for 1 month to promote its position).

The challenges were many:

(1) Needless to say, the Opposition contained many points of view, including that of surviving Communists/Socialists whose ascendency in 1973 under Socialist president Salvador Allende had served as the pretext for the (U.S. sponsored) military coup.  Allende's rule and the years immediately preceding it had been marked by increasing social/economic tensions and chaos.  The "Yes" camp was certainly going to emphatically argue that "A vote 'No' is a vote for Chaos, Economic Decline and Communism," a characterization that even the surviving Communists/Socialists would have emphatically denied believing (probably rightly) that they had never ever been given a chance.  But more to the point, the Opposition didn't include just the Communists.  It included pretty much everybody who wanted a return to Civil Society (ALL parties had been banned under the military dictatorship).  How can an opposition of very divergent views come together to promote a unified vision?

(2) How does one get people to vote for a Negative?  The "Yes" camp, in as much as it felt it had to bother run on anything, was going to run on a record of "Yes to what you know: Stability, Economic Progress," while at the same time threatening the specter of renewed instability, indeed a "Red Apocalypse" if the "No" camp won.  And just as post-9/11, G.W. Bush Administration taunted the Democrats to campaign on something other than "Anger" to its policies, so too, the Opposition to Pinochet had to promote something positive even as they were actually CONSTITUTIONALLY CONSTRICTED to advocating a position of "No" to the Regime.

(3) Many in the populace were convinced that the whole exercise was a sham anyway.  Why stick one's neck out when all it invited was getting oneself in trouble AFTER the election whose results were a foregone conclusion?

How then to proceed?

The opposition decided, however reluctantly, to go with a commercial style "ad campaign" selling Freedom with basically the same tools and imagery as if they were selling a soft-drink.  Key to the campaign was the decision to go with a Chilean "ad man" named René Saavedra (played by Gael García Bernal) who had impressed some of the more creative "outside of the box"-thinking Opposition leaders with his silly but effective campaigns on behalf of consumer products.  Could actual FREEDOM be as "free-ing" as buying a microwave oven? ;-).

Indeed, one of the funniest scenes in the movie was when Saavedra presented his ideas for this kind of a campaign (smiles, rainbows, mimes, dancing children and butterflies...) to the "leadership council" of opposition politicians including Communists (who were willing to "repackage themselves" by calling themselves "Socialists" but, honestly before this meeting weren't even considering repackaging themselves as anything else ...):

Was such a "stupid" campaign an insult to tens of thousands of tortured/disappeared martyrs and their widows and orphans?  Yet what was the alternative?  Bring up torture and the government would trot out a campaign stoking fears of renewed instability and economic paralysis.

So the Opposition reluctantly gave its approval to a campaign that decided pointedly to talk neither of the Past or the Present but of a Bright Future of "NO more (torture, oppression, division)" a future where EVERY CHILEAN was respected and allowed to pursue his/her "Alegria" (happiness) in peace.  (And a "united" Opposition of 17 some-odd banned political parties ALREADY SHOWED that it's possible to RESPECT one another's views and DIFFERENCES).

The government found itself surprised and flatfooted.  It expected to compete with accusatory images of beatings and torture.  Instead it was faced above all with images smiling children holding hands and (necessarily) multicolored rainbows.

Honestly, this is a lovely, often humorous film that a lot of people should see:

Even in face of crime and injustice, one needs to smile.  Indeed, EVEN JESUS SAID AS MUCH on the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7): "You must be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect" (5:48) noting that God makes "the sun rise and the rain fall on both the just and the unjust" (5:45).

It's not to discount crime and injustice, for "blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness" (5:6) it's just that even "the Evil doers" are God's children as well.

Running a campaign of calling Pinochet and his supporters Evil doers would have just brought-out the riot police and the water cannon (again...).  Focusing on smiling children and the Future ("Do we want to live like this forever...?") proved a better and certainly far more disarming way.  A great film and a great message!

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