The 15-minute nightly spots, a concession by the Pinochet regime under international pressure, are aired in the wee hours but nevertheless have a huge popular impact. Fighting resistance from hard-left forces who want him to show images of torture and brutality, Saavedra, whose previous ad triumph was selling soda, creates a sunny campaign featuring a rainbow logo and the slogan “Chile, happiness is on the way.”
Saavedra’s father was a prominent Chilean dissident exiled by Pinochet; his disapproving ex-wife (Antonia Zegers) is a left-wing activist with whom he shares custody of their young son (Pascal Montero). He is coaxed into taking on the NO campaign by an old Socialist friend of his father’s (Luis Gnecco). And yet we are never led to believe that Saavedra is anything but a whiz kid ad man – a Chilean Don Draper. He’s a salesman, not a political firebrand.
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.”