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February 5, 2013
Gael Garcia Bernal is a very likeable actor. Few people have a bad word to say about him and, yes, he’s definitely easy on the eye but it’s his career that really makes this Latin actor stand out. Bernal has continued to skirt around the mainstream, keeping audiences guessing, working with some great directors taking provocative roles in some noteworthy independent films. From a young actor in Almodavar’s brilliantly dark melodrama, A Bad Education, a lustful teen in Cuaran’s Y Tu Mama¡ Tambian, to a man entrenched in his dreams in Gondry’s surreal The Science of Sleep to his bold depiction of a young Che Guevara in The Motorcycle Diaries. Bernal’s career has been varied and interesting. So, what’s next?
Bernal’s latest on screen jaunt certainly follows suit as we see him star in Pablo Larrain’s film No about how a small group of media executives managed to remove Pinochet with 15 minutes of television. No is named after the advertising campaign created by a coalition opposing Pinochet’s regime and released in 1988 to encourage democracy in Chile. It’s a very interesting part of history and makes for a very interesting film which has already won the Art Cinema Prize at Cannes in 2012.
Following earlier film’s Tony Manero and Post Mortem, Larrain’s now turned his attention to Pinochet era politics with a much bigger budget and growing ambitions. The tension and pain of living under Pinochet’s regime is made tangible through the tension shown in scenes between Rene and his estranged, activist wife, Veronica (Antonia Zegers), with whom he shares custody of young son Simon (Pascal Montero), and the conflict of interest between Rene and his boss, Lucho Guzman – played by Larrain’s usual leading actor Frido Castro. Guzman tries to put Rene off working with the ‘No’ coalition as he’s working on the regimes campaign. Their days may be spent making commercials and soap operas but at night they turn their attention to undermining each other’s campaigns. Bernal gives us a protagonist to really get behind as Rene struggles to put across his ideas and create a successful routine faced with opposition and troubled relationships.
Nominated this year for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, with No, Larrain’s made his slickest film to date with every detail, from the costumes to the riot scenes, made to look effortless as a result of fine tuning, careful use of a bigger budget and this director’s attention to detail. No doesn’t have the same surreal quality as Larrain’s earlier films and is pretty stoic and serious throughout. It might be too heavy or dry for some tastes but the story is gripping, the editing, by Andrea Chinogli, slick and the acting is excellent. Shot on analogue, the film has a retro unkempt aesthetic that feels stripped back and symbolic of the conditions and time portrayed. Larrain is portraying Cuba’s history but this story resonates and can be applied to any struggle across the globe. At the same time, this film also explores the power of the media both as a controlling force and tool for democracy, making this a very poignant piece of filmmaking.
No is not a light hearted film but it’s very smart, entertaining and in the end it is a heart-warming tale about how even in the most bleak times and circumstances, with determination and grit the underdog can win.