In 1988, Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was forced to call a plebiscite, allowing the country to vote on whether or not he would rule for another eight years. Based on true events and using the real footage of the ads that ran during this time, the film No, out today, follows René (Gael García Bernal), an advertising executive, as he leads the “No” campaign. He soon finds that the main obstacle is not convincing the Chilean people to vote no — but to have the courage to vote, period.
This is the third film that director Pablo Larraín has made about the dictator Pinochet — Tony Manero depicts the most violent period of his dictatorship, and Post Mortem shows its origin. It is not surprising that Larraín would be interested in this subject matter, given that he was born in 1976 in Santiago, Chile, in the middle of Pinochet's reign.
We caught up with Larraín and Bernal at a pre-opening LACMA screening a few weeks ago, a little after they'd found out their film had been selected as one of the Academy Award nominees for Best Foreign Film.
Congratulations on the Oscar nomination! Did you do anything to celebrate?
Pablo Larraín: Yeah, we had a little party down there in Chile.
Gael García Bernal: Yeah, I was here, and I was just coming from a very strong hangover in Los Cabos, in California. I was already celebrating before it. But no, we will celebrate the win.
I know you two have been doing a lot of press, so I'll try not to ask you the same questions over and over again.
GGB: You started asking not the usual questions.
PL: But you know, I've been building a whole theory about it — about culture. Because if you, like, after a hundred interviews, there's eight questions out of ten, and they're the same question, it means just that we're all just worried about the same things. It's something bigger than just the question itself. We're thinking the same direction, and I'm not sure that it's precisely good. I wouldn't say that it's exactly good. I don't know.
GGB: Yeah, well that's interesting, that appreciation. That's true. There is something about being on a highway — the same highway.
PL: It's like the same perception. It's like, “How this movie… Why did you start thinking about this project? Why did you choose that style?”
GGB: There is this journalist in Mexico, who — he's very odd because he always asks the questions that nobody else asks, but he always asks the same questions. “How long did it take you to edit?” And you know, very particular questions that you go, “Does it matter? Does it really matter? He really cares for how long it took you to edit?”
Right. What really struck me about the film was what you have talked about in other interviews, about how this film has a universal message. Politics is politics. These days, in America, a lot of time is spent trying to convince the 18-to-25 demographic to actually care about voting. While in the film, the campaign was meant to convince the public —
PL: –to [have] courage.
GGB: Let's not forget, also, that politics, in a way, are the main hub for publicity… I remember some campaigns about going out to vote in the '90s. There was one called “Rock the Vote” in the United States. But in many countries, there's many campaigns to do that. And it's a tough one because you have to do a campaign that convinces people to vote, yet at the same time, you don't have to convince people to vote for anything in particular…The No campaign wasn't trying to convince people to vote for No, it was trying to convince people to go out there and vote in a way. Because they knew they were going to vote for No, in a sense, no?
PL: Because they knew the people that weren't going to vote, if they would file a vote, they would do it for the No, so yeah.
GGB: Which is an interesting mechanic because I don't put it out there, telling you–
PL: –what to do. I just push you to do something. But time has changed a lot. We're talking about today. Last year, my country changed their laws. So everyone that is over 18 is automatically inscribed, is able to vote. And it's not an obligation. And we got, you know, 30 percent. I will have to check the numbers, but it's about 30 percent. [The actual percentage was around 40 percent.] And it's crazy, you know? Just nobody really actually wants to. And it's the apathy. And I think part of the message or the reflection that the movie has is that you better go out and vote. Because if you don't do it, first, somebody else will do it for you, somebody's choosing for you…
If you're not a person that is actually aware of your political situation and you don't worry about it, it will cost you something in your life — in a very expensive way. At some point, you will pay the price of apathy. And democracy, you have to be there. You do it every day, all the time.
GGB: It's an interesting debate, no? Because in the last elections in Mexico, I didn't want to vote. I really didn't want to. I hated all the candidates. I mean, not hated. But I didn't really want to vote for them.
PL: You didn't like any of the options. Nobody really represented you.
GGB: But I had to. And the problem is also the voto nulo, voting white [voting by absentee ballot], it doesn't work. It's not counted in Mexico.
It seems we only have time for one more question, so I'll leave you with this. What is the most important time in your life that you've said no?
GGB: I don't know. To say no is the first word that kids learn.
PL: You say no more times than you say yes.
GGB: Because yes puts you in a fragile position.
PL: [laughs] There's a whole theory: the fragility of yes.
GGB: Exactly. There's many times I've said yes. But no? A million times. And I don't know which one is more important than which.
PL: Saying no is a whole thing. You have to learn when and how to say no. It's a whole science. The science of no.