Run time: 118 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 9th August 2012
Box Office USA: $2.3M
Distributed by: Sony Pictures Classics
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Fresh: 109 Rotten: 8
IMDB: 7.4 / 10
Director: Pablo Larrain
Producer: Daniel Marc Dreifuss, Juan de Dios Larrain, Pablo Larrain
Screenwriter: Pedro Peirano
For his third Pinochet-era movie, Chilean filmmaker Larrain has come up with his most breathtakingly original approach yet, telling a story anyone, anywhere can identify with while at the same time never pulling his political punches. Nominated for an Oscar, the film is a blast of creativity, and not just because it centres on the advertising business.
It's set in 1988 Santiago, where ad agency boss Lucho (Castro) has taken a high-profile job for the government to get the nation to vote "yes" on a referendum to ratify Pinochet for another 10 years. Bowing to international pressure, Pinochet allows the "no" campaign to have equal time on TV, and Lucho's employee Rene (Garcia Bernal) takes the job. Rene knows he has the moral high-ground, standing up against Pinochet's tyrannical rule, censorship and rampant human rights abuses. But he also worries that a government known for oppressing ideas is unlikely to let him say anything he wants. Or to allow a truly free vote.
Over the 27-day campaign, the respect and rivalry between Lucho and Rene spurs them to increasing creativity. Rene knows that "you can't use fear on a population that's already terrorised", so opts instead to focus on the coming happiness. This essentially turns the film into a sharp comedy, even though there are dark dangers lurking everywhere. And offhanded, natural performances make the entire cast both likeable and sympathetic. Their debates are packed with witty observations that offer revealing glimpses into both politics and the creative process.
Most intriguing is the way the film is shot like a video documentary that has only just been declassified and released to the public. The grainy VHS-quality images actually add to the film's potent kick, as do a number of hilarious running gags along the way (Rene is also trying to figure out how to sell a new brand of microwave oven, an invention he doesn't quite trust). With its ad agency setting, there have been comparisons between this film and Mad Men, but Larrain is much more playful here, even as he makes sure we understand the life-or-death threat of life under Pinochet. He also makes sure that we don't miss the parallels with what's happening in the world today.