(director: Pablo Larrain; screenwriters: Rene Saavedra/from the play by Antonio Skármeta; cinematographer: Sergio Armstrong; editor: Andrea Chignoli; music: Carlos Cabezas; cast: Gael Garcia Bernal (Rene Saavedra), Antonia Zegers (Veronica), Pascal Montero (Simon), Alfredo Castro (Lucho Guzmán), Luis Gnecco (José Tomás Urrutia), Néstor Cantillana (Fernando), Elsa Poblete (Carmen); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Daniel Marc Dreifuss/Juan de Dios Larraín/Pablo Larrain; Sony Classics; 2012-Chile-in Spanish with English subtitles)
“The understated performance by Bernal was inspiring, as was the pic.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
It’s based on the play “Referendum” by Chilean journalist Antonio Skármeta. This is the third leg in the trilogy ofthe brutal Augusto Pinochet dictatorship in Chile by Chilean director Pablo Larrain (“Tony Manero”/”Post Mortem”). The stirring historical drama blends together one part political and the other part a satirical account of an advertising media campaign that brought down the regime.
Hotshot advertising executive Rene Saavedra (Gael Garcia Bernal, Mexican actor) is the son of a prominent Chilean dissident who was sent into exile when Pinochet seized power in his 1973 military coup of the legitimate democratically elected socialist Allende regime, with the aid of the CIA. Rene returns to Chile with his young son Simon (Pascal Montero), and works for the advertising firm run by Pinochet supporter Lucho Guzmán (Alfredo Castro). It’s 1988 and Chile has undergone 15 years of torture, oppression and lack of freedom. Due to international pressure, Pinochet is forced to call a referendum on his presidency. The country has a choice to vote Yes or No for Pinochet serving another 8 years. Each side for a month will be given 15-minutes of free late-night air-time to broadcast daily and try to persuade the people to vote Yes or No.
Socialist big-shot politico Urrutia (Luis Gnecco), an old friend of Rene’s father, persuades Rene to help as a campaign consultant in this difficult task of uniting all the dissident parties in one voice and fending off the tight scrutiny of the dictatorship. Most Chilean left-wingers, such as Rene’s estranged activist wife, Veronica (Antonia Zegers), believe the referendum is rigged so Pinochet will win and she thinks this process is a charade. Within the ad campaign, Rene is challenged by the radical members of the coalition for downplaying the torture and misery caused by Pinochet for a strategy of lighthearted campaign messages that have commercial-like jingles that promise happiness in the future and use rainbows as symbols to unite the people. Running the campaign for the dictator is Lucho Guzmán, who tells of the country’s economic prosperity under the regime. Lucho fails to get Rene to quit as consultant for the opposition, even after offering him a partnership. During their regular day jobs, the men work together promoting soft drinks, evening gowns and microwaves.
Though the ad world represents a degraded form of art, its manipulative messages work and they bring down the repressive regime to the surprise of many.
The pic has the realistic look of a despotic country that is tense over the possibility of giving the people too much of an opportunity to vent their displeasure. It also dates back to a time before politicians in democratic countries used advertising firms almost without fail to promote their campaign messages.
The understated performance by Bernal was inspiring, as was the pic. The even-handed film, whose fault might be in its too simplistic political message. Nevertheless it exposes the hypocrisies on both sides and gives the viewer an entertaining and clear picture of those embittered days. Of note, Larrain is the son of Pinochet supporters.
REVIEWED ON 4/21/2013 GRADE: B