Gael Garcia Bernal stars in this indecisive historical drama about Chile under Pinochet
With elements of Mad Men and Wag the Dog accompanying its diligent examination of a country in the throes of change, this fact-based Chilean drama focuses upon the role played by marketeers in the 1988 referendum that heralded the end of the 15-year dictatorship of August Pinochet.
Gael Garcia Bernal plays René, a skilled advertising exec who’s accustomed to going where the money is. Asked by a friend to author the ‘No’ campaign, against Pinochet’s presidency, Rene is initially sceptical, but grows more deeply invested as the possibilities offered by the referendum become apparent to him.
Director Pablo Larrain clearly wishes neither to sentimentalise the past, nor excoriate it with cynical satire; but this trepidation leaves his film feeling indecisive. Furthermore, the newly-made parts of the film have been shot on Sony U-Matic video, to match up with the look of the adverts of the time. This is formally interesting – and creates odd moments of beauty – but it replicates the qualities of a bad pirate DVD. An already dense and intricately tricksy film thus becomes something of a physical task to watch as well. It’s as if Larrain doesn’t want us to enjoy ourselves … and maybe that’s some sort of point about the guilty pleasures of propaganda? Or maybe he’s just an obsolete technology geek.
Selected release from Fri 8 Feb.