As news of Hugo Chávez's death spread across South Florida, last night was a good night to see a movie about the end of a dictatorship. A packed house attended the Miami premiere of No, Chilean director Pablo Larraín's final film in his Pinochet trilogy. The Miami International Film Festival staff even had to delay the screening several minutes while the audience continued to stream in.
After the audience was mostly seated, Andres Castillo, assistant director of MIFF, walked out to introduce the film. He received applause when he mentioned No's Oscar nomination. Though the film's director had attended MIFF for at least one of the other two films in the trilogy, he was not present last night. Instead, Castillo introduced actor Alfredo Castro, who played prominent roles in all three of the films and co-wrote the screenplay to the first of the films, 2008's Tony Manero.
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After a brief introduction of the film (and a missed opportunity to warn viewers that the image was supposed to look like fuzzy analog video), it began. No covers the creation of the advertising campaign opposing Pinochet after, in 1988, he allowed a referendum giving the people the power to decide whether he stays as president for the next eight years or allow for democratic elections the year after the referendum. The options on the ballot were simple: "Yes" or "No."
Mexican actor Gael García Bernal plays René Saavedra, a scruffy advertising executive hired by the anti-Pinochet movement to create a TV advertising campaign in favor of the "No" option.
As the film blends in the washed-out low-quality TV video of the era, Larraín maintains all the action behind the scenes with a similar look. It makes for a brilliant cinematographic choice that transcends wardrobe. Never has a vintage-era film been blended this well with archival footage. With brisk writing that never forgets its sense of humor, plus a soul-stirring performance by Bernal, it is no wonder this film has received so much acclaim.
After the film, the questions from the audience were slightly more colorful than usual. A gentleman identified himself as a U.S. citizen and offered an apology on behalf of the United States "because it was our government that allowed Pinochet to come to power." The comment was greeted with loud applause.
A woman later asked whether a film about the death of Chávez could win an Oscar if No lost at this year's Oscars. Castillo and Castro looked at each other with a confused glance, and Castillo responded, "We are not going to make this about politics."
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Someone else asked why Larraín chose Mexican actor Gael García Bernal over a Chilean. Castro responded by saying, "I think Pablo chose Gael because he's a great actor," to a round of applause.
On that note, the Q&A ended, and viewers returned from the political turmoil of the screen to the political turmoil of reality.
Follow Hans Morgenstern on Twitter @indieethos.