Movie review: For entertaining based-on-a-true political story, just say “No”

From the April 11, 2013 edition

Did an ad campaign really change the shape of history? No. I mean, at least not by itself.

But “No,” this year’s foreign language Oscar nominee from Chile, makes an engaging and entertaining film from that premise.

After 15 years in power following a bloody (and American-backed) coup, Chile’s Gen. Augusto Pinochet was facing international pressure to legitimize his rule. A simple yes-or-no national vote would determine whether the dictator would remain in power.

The opposing sides will be given 15 minutes of television time each day — although the Pinochet campaign has the decided advantage with influence over much of the media. Organizers of the “no” campaign recruit young advertising executive Rene Saavedra (Gael Garcia Bernal) to work on the campaign.

The charismatic Rene has a bold approach to the campaign. Rather than focusing on the bloody coup, he sells the “no” vote like it’s a new soft drink, incorporating catchy jingles, humor and montages of happy people doing happy things.

But will it work? Spoiler alert: Remember Pinochet?

Director Pablo Larraín uses the fictional Rene as a focal point for the campaign and overplays the singular significance of the campaign. (Clearly there was a lot more turning the tide against Pinochet.)

But it’s fascinating and terribly entertaining to see the wonders of advertising applied to national affairs, especially with the charms of Bernal. If you enjoy picking apart these facets of “Mad Men” (or the Obama campaigns), you’ll likely enjoy.

Like other recent true-life dramas (“Argo,” “Zero Dark Thirty”), I tend to forgive factual fudging for improved drama. Just remember, you aren’t watching a documentary.