“Over the past few years,” writes Jordan Cronk in Reverse Shot, “director Pablo Larraín has become one of Chile’s most highly regarded artistic ambassadors, producing a series of stylistically diverse films that have taken on Augusto Pinochet’s violent and unscrupulous reign, which lasted in his country from 1974 until 1990. The key to Larraín’s effectiveness thus far has been his ability to strategically, and from different angles, analyze issues surrounding the political stain the dictator left on Chile. Tony Manero, the first in Larraín’s loose Pinochet trilogy, approached the era most symbolically. Set in 1978 in the wake of the pop-culture fervor over Saturday Night Fever, the film dissects the psychology of a disenchanted civilian whose obsessive mimicry of John Travolta’s disco-dancing icon can barely mask a murderous split-personality, his alienation posited as a pointed outgrowth of his noxious surroundings. For his follow-up, the darker and somehow even more bleak Post Mortem, Larraín would aim his critique at the dawn of Pinochet’s rise to power. Patiently observing a pale-faced morgue typist as he stoically investigates the disappearance of a local burlesque dancer, Post Mortem literally concludes in a state of ambiguous transition for its characters and the culture they symbolize, but also, it turns out, for Larraín himself.”
“No is less important to the overall state of cinema than it is to Larraín’s career, which it charges up big time,” writes Robert Koehler for Cinema Scope. “Seeming to be at first like a star vehicle for Gael García Bernal as René, a kind of Don Draper of his time as a masterful TV commercial maker, No emerges as an ingenious fable on the ways that modern politics have entirely projected their message and image through television. It’s an enactment of McLuhan media theories put into practice, but (again) as a comedy. René’s campaign of ads to urge voters to reject a 1988 national referendum to continue Pinochet’s position as dictator is viewed by Larraín half as a lightly attuned social satire and half as documentary—René is a fictitious composite, but the events actually did happen, and the TV ads are real, a dazzling array of archive material revealing pop-culture attitudes that mask the fact that Chile had endured 15 years of draconian darkness, and was on the verge of signing up for more of the same.”
“For some of the old guard in the opposition,” notes Nick Pinkerton in the Voice, “the seductive vapidity of the No campaign, however pragmatic, is an unconscionable betrayal of the bloody legacy of resistance. The ambivalence these voices stir up is the film’s presiding tone until the end, when Chileans, like the former residents of the Soviet Union and its satellites, step out of dictatorship… and find themselves citizens of a whole new simulacra.”
More from Steve Dollar (GreenCine Daily), David Fear (Time Out New York), Elise Nakhnikian (House Next Door), R. Kurt Osenlund (Slant, 3/4), Eric D. Snider (Twitch), and Stephanie Zacharek (Film.com).