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'No' aims to put viewers in the middle of Chilean politics

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Larraín, whose two previous films about Chile, “Tony Manero” and “Post Mortem,” span  Pinochet’s reign, comes from a wealthy family. His senator father was also president of the main pro-Pinochet party.

This of course leads to speculation that “No,” loosely based on a play by Antonio Skármeta, who also wrote the novel upon which “Il Postino” is based, is the work of a man looking to make amends. Except that, for some of the real people involved, the movie is anything but progressive. Genaro Arriagada, the director of the NO campaign, recently told The New York Times, “The idea that, after 15 years of dictatorship in a politically sophisticated country with strong union and student movements, solid political parties and an active human rights movement, all of a sudden this Mexican advertising guy arrives on his skateboard and says, ‘Gentleman, this is what you have to do,’ that is a caricature.”

The controversy over the factual accuracy of historical drama is all the movie rage right now – “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Lincoln,” and “Argo” have all taken their lumps – and “No” can, I think, be fairly criticized on the same grounds. Larraín, same as Saavedra, and despite the film’s faux documentary approach, is painting a happy face on the proceedings. Conceptually the film is in conflict with itself: a tough-shelled puffball. Thanks to Bernal’s quicksilver performance, it nevertheless brings to the fore a quintessential conundrum: Is it possible to “sell” revolution to market democracy, in the same way we sell soap and soda? In Larraín’s terms, Saavedra may be a huckster but what resulted from his hucksterism was genuine reform.

This may be too sunny a surmise as well: Pinochet, after all, even after the NOs captured 55 percent of the vote, remained commander of the armed forces until 1998. But the tone of uplift is earned. Larraín’s unarguable point is that, in politics, if we wait for good to issue only from the pure in heart, we will be waiting a very long time. Grade: B (Rated R for language.)

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