NO, nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, happens in 1988, when Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet, due to international pressure, was forced to call a plebiscite on his presidency. The country had to vote YES or NO to Pinochet extending his rule for another eight years. Opposition leaders for the NO persuade a brash young advertising executive, Rene Saavedra (Gael Garcia Bernal), to spearhead their campaign. Against all odds, with scant resources and under scrutiny by the despot’s minions, Saavedra and his team devise an audacious plan to win the election and set Chile free.
Pablo Larrain was born in Santiago, Chile, in 1976. He is a founding member of Fabula, a company dedicated to producing film, television, and commercials, as well as providing production services.
In 2005, he directed his first feature-length film, “Fuga”. In 2007, Pablo Larrain directed his second film, “Tony Manero”, collaborating on the screenplay with Mateo Iribarren and Alfredo Castro. The film premiered at the Director’s Fortnight at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival. (Cinema Without Borders interviewed Pablo about “Tony Manero”)
“Post Mortem” was his third feature film, starring Alfredo Castro and Antonia Zegers. It premiered at the Official Competition of the Venice Film Festival in September 2010. In 2010, Pablo Larrain directed “Profugos”, HBO’s first television series produced in Chile. He is currently shooting the second season of “Profugos”. “NO” is his fourth film.
Bijan Tehrani: For me, coming from Iran, and knowing a lot of other filmmakers from countries stricken with dictatorship, this film is a bit like how to deal with a dictatorship in a peaceful way. It’s a very different approach and very well done. How did you come up with the idea of making this film, which seems to be the last in the trilogy you were making?
Pablo Larraín: Our starting point was a play by Antonio Skármeta. The play had this wonderful perspective from the point of view of the arts executive. It was hard to understand at first why to use this point of view but in the end, we thought it was fantastic. You couldn’t pick up any perspective: you had the military, the YES guys, the NO guys, politicians from both sides, people who were in the streets demonstrating for so many years against Pinochet but it seemed that the perspective of the advertising executive was very interesting: he was sharp and sort of subversive.
Then we did a huge amount of research, we found a lot of archival footage, interviewed people who had done the campaign. It was scary to look at this mountain but Pedro Peirano, our screenwriter, has this talent for condensing all this and bringing it into the script.
It’s a fascinating story but it’s very unknown. Most people know how Pinochet got into power but they don’t know how he got out. Most dictators don’t leave power in a democratic peaceful process – they usually leave through shoot-outs, or never leave until they die, or they hand power over to someone they confide in. So it’s a very interesting and unique story and we decided to tell it to the world.
BT: I don’t think any other movie about Pinochet and his times and tortures would have been as effective as this film showing what’s going on.
PL: This is the story of a triumph. People ask me all the time why I did those dark movies before and now a bright optimistic film. The previous movies took place in the middle of the dictatorship and focused on the people who had suffered. This one is the story of how people got organized in order to defeat a bastard! It has a positive, optimistic perspective in the soul of the story so we had to respect that. We had to follow the flow it had and tell the story with all the implications and contradictions it had. Don’t forget this is the story of a triumph, how Pinochet was defeated by the tools he imposed! Pinochet imposed the capitalistic system in my country during the 70s and 80s and he never imagined he was going to be pulled out with those same tools or didn’t even notice. It’s fantastic! It’s a paradox but paradoxes make an interesting film.
BT: At this time in the world, not just in Chile, we need a little bit of positive attitude and need to see how we can overcome problems in a different way.
PL: It’s wonderful! We were able to show the film in many countries and it is amazing to see how people will relate it to their own political reality no matter where they are. This is interesting because this film is about Chile 25 years ago, so it is not meant to be universal but it ended up being that way! That is very satisfying. This film shows what people can do when they get together: it’s not a cliché or an ideal, it’s real.
BT: How did you go about the visual style of the film? I thought it resembled a documentary style.
PL: We used a lot of archival footage so we had to find a way so that the audience could enter the film. If we had shot HD or film, it would have been so different from the archival footage that the audience would constantly be taken in and out, so the illusion would be broken. So we decided to shoot in the same format that the archival footage was made in the 80s in order to achieve an illusion where people wouldn’t know what they are looking at – archival footage or what we shot… So the documentary becomes fiction and our fiction becomes documentary, I think it’s a very interesting crossover.
BT: How did you go about the casting?
PL: Most of the cast is the same cast I’ve been working with. We’re like a little company. We invited
Gael to be part of our team because he is such a great actor and he has this amazing mystery, he leaves this space that the audience must complete and I think you need that in a movie.
BT: Right now, you are one of the five nominees for the Best Film in a Foreign Language Oscar. What do you think of your chances of winning the award, of the opportunities being a nominee may have brought and the opportunities winning the award could bring?
PL: I haven’t won an Oscar before so I can’t really tell you! For sure it will help the movie: more people will be aware of the film, be interested in it, so more people will see it! The film is about to be released in the US, in Europe, most countries in America, Asia – most release dates are in the next three weeks.
BT: Are you working on new projects?
PL: Yes, but I’m not sure when I will do it since I am still working on promoting this film and so on… We’ll see what’s next!
BT: Best of luck and hopefully we’ll talk after your new film.