"This movie is also about the economic system, and when you abuse this system. My country is owned by eight or 10 guys. The NO option won, but the YES option stayed."--- Pablo Larraín
The director in the above quote taken from this interview calls it about right.The movie leaves an uneasy aftertaste of a group of People who done quite well under Pinochet getting rid of a stale past sell-by date figure-head rather than a mass movement revolution from the grassroots up disposing of a despised torturing dictator.The feeling you get is close to that of Middle England in the late-80s , early 90s removing Thatcher whilst happily retaining Thatcherism.One has to recall the Hero of the Film , a composite loosely based on Eugenio Garcia , is an ace advertising executive at the same time that Saatchi & Saatchi were the avant-garde entrepreneurial champions of corporate capitalism , rather like the Zuckerberg of Today.To this end it is difficult to know where facts end and fiction starts , or how to see if any lessons of the Chile experience can seriously be applied to removing dictators and unjust systems today.
For example , it stretched credulity to know that a successful mainstream advertising executive would be living with a partner that is being serially arrested for anti-government protests. According to an article in the NY Times that deals with reaction to the film in Chile itself “No” is loosely based on “The Plebiscite,” a play written by Antonio Skármeta, a Chilean who is also the author of the novel that was made into the Oscar-winning film"Il Postino."He invented the René Saavedra character, but his Saavedra is very different from Mr. Larrain’s: 50ish, politically engaged, idealistic and happily married rather than 30ish, indifferent to politics, careerist and separated."
Then we have an anomaly of whether there was funding , and to what extent , by US agencies for the NO Campaign.This is an important element that the film does not touch upon any any great detail in that a continuum of a US Administration that at around that time was seriously and openly interfering with popular aspirations that went against its economic and long-term strategic goals in Nicaragua , Colombia and Grenada in staunch defence of its Monrovian Doctrine would not be funding a campaign whose result would seriously tarnish its goals.Nor does the film delve into how much the insistence that NO campaign have 15 minute broadcasts along with the YES campaign was a dictate from the State department that Pinochet could not refuse.
It is important to recognise what was at stake in the 1988 , an article entitled "Authoritarianism Defeated By Its Own Rules " states:
The turning point for the opposition had come in 1987, when key leaders concluded that their only hope to defeat the military was to beat it at its own game. Opposition leaders accepted the reality, if not the legitimacy, of constitutional provisions they despised by agreeing to register their followers in the electoral rolls set up by the junta, legalize political parties according to the regime's own prescriptions, and prepare to participate fully in a plebiscite they viewed as undemocratic.And there are the reasons the US was not averse to the NO Campaign having a plausible chance to succeed , the Chicago Consensus economic was immersed and stable , the Constitution was in place , having been signed up by those wanting to contest democractic elections , to reduce flexibility of any party programme that deviated from the economic parameters in place.This meant the stakes for the referendum were not strategically high risk for the ruling elites or the US Foreign Policy for the region.All that was at issue was if Pinochet would rule for a term as President for the tenure of the already constitutionally agreed parliament.If anything US facilitation of a universally agreed embarrassing , dispensable dictator (who had already done the job of persecuting communists to such an extent that re-emergence as a force outwith constitutional process was not a factor) without losing grip on the genuine centre of Powers could be positive propaganda with critics abroad and Human Rights advocates at home in what could turn out to be a Media Populist Humanitarian Intervention which could also serve as a reminder for the rest of the nations in the region of a tension-friendly path to acceptance of US Interests as opposed to the reaction if you go down the route of Nicaragua.Even for Pinochet the lose of the referendum , though not expected when the campaign began , would give him a plan B option to continue to rule as the Head of the Military , a place of Sovereignty from which neither Pinochet or the US would brook no equals.
The video below shows one of the actual NO campaign 15 minute broadcasts , notice the slick image-making that shows a lot of US marketing style influence:
This brings us to the reaction of the Chileans to this episode, the comment from Pablo Factvm encapsulates a general deep seated trend.
This quote from a highly informative , quality piece of journalism from the NY Times tells us:
“No” has also been criticized for what it leaves out. The numerous books and academic theses that have been written on the plebiscite over the last quarter-century uniformly credit the anti-Pinochet forces’ grass-roots effort to register 7.5 million Chileans as pivotal to their success at the polls, but that is a subject that Mr. Larraín does not address.
A Poll Watcher during that referendum , now a directer of Human Rights Watch tacitly states about that unique and genuinely superhuman drive done by the very grassroots that have gained least in the new Chile:
“The campaign for the No contained a huge component that was the electoral registry,” Mr. Vivanco said in a telephone interview from Washington. Voters “had to be educated about participating in a process that was perceived by many as not legitimate. How do you persuade people to take this seriously” when many were convinced that the Pinochet side “will engage in fraud, will use me, will never allow themselves to lose?”
This article pays due regard to that monumental grassroots registration effort which brought over seven and half million into the voting process , strangely only over half of them voted for NO whilst 45% voted for continuation of Pinochet , giving him confidence to dig in his heels and play hardball to gain a host of concessions and dispensations for himself and the elites.
Below is a video of an Amnesty International interview with Gael Garcia Bernal and Eugenio Garcia ( the real life character who the lead role is based on).
The oft-quoted NY Times article is worth reading as it also touches upon Chileans of all aspects and classes in the campaign concerns of the Films nature , motivation and the message the film may misleadingly portray to the world looking for inspiration about over-throwing dictators.