Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5. Chile/France/USA, 2012. Participant Media, Funny Balloons, Fabula, Canana Films, Programa Ibermedia, Consejo Nacional de la Cultura y las Artes, Corfo. Screenplay by Pedro Peirano, based on the play by Antonio Skarmeta. Cinematography by Sergio Armstrong. Produced by Daniel Marc Dreifuss, Juan de Dios Larrain, Pablo Larrain. Music by Carlos Cabezas. Production Design by Estefania Larrain. Costume Design by Francisca Roman. Film Editing by Andrea Chignoli. Academy Awards 2012. National Board of Review Awards 2012. Toronto International Film Festival 2012.
An advertising executive (Gael Garcia Bernal) takes his life into his own hands when he decides to manage the campaign for the anti-Pinochet campaign, fighting to overturn the dictatorship during the 1988 national plebiscite. After fifteen years of illegal dictatorship, Pinochet has finally bowed to international pressure and decided to hold a referendum asking the population if they will voluntarily keep him in power or oust him in favour of a legally elected leader. Both sides of the debate are allowed fifteen minutes air time on television every day to win the people over, and Bernal (who is excellent) must find a way to make sure that the No side gets past the finish line first on election day. What he brings to the table turns out to be a radical idea for those who have hired him: rather than impressing viewers with hard facts about disappeared citizens and military brutality, why not sell people a governmental change the same way you sell them soft drinks and microwaves? Use carefully constructed and manipulative images of the paradise that awaits those who vote Pinochet out of office and beat the opposition at its own game. His ideas are met with resistance, while at the same time he has to downplay his participation in the campaign at work as he threatens to make himself very unpopular with his boss, who is curiously working the Yes campaign and perfectly well aware of what his employee is up to. When Bernal’s house starts to experience break-ins and the life of his son is threatened, you know that this (well documented and historic) occasion is not going to be easy to pull off given that the other side is not at all playing fair. At the same time, director Pablo Larrain very slyly suggests that winning in politics is always about manipulative propaganda even when fighting for what is right and just. Filmed on analogue film to replicate newsreels of the eighties, and done with such command that not a single moment of this blistering docudrama feels false, this is an absorbing and worthy political thriller that never gets shrill or bombastic but is always captivating.