Gael Garcia Bernal stars in "No" which plays at Cinematheque this weekend.
It has been 40 years since Chile's own September 11th, that day in 1973 when the democratically-elected government of Salvador Allende was overthrown in a brutal military coup. The repressive rule of General Augusto Pinochet would see thousands of Chileans tortured, murdered and "disappeared," and hundreds of thousands forced into exile.
This week, Cinematheque will screen a series of films about this tumultuous period. Curated by Chilean-born Cecilia Araneda, "40 Years On: The Narration of Chilean Resistance and Exile in Cinema" offers powerful, provocative viewing for anyone interested in history, politics and human rights.
Here are two standouts:
● Salvador Allende (Thursday, September 12, 7:00 pm), a documentary from acclaimed Chilean filmmaker Patricio Guzman, combines astonishing archival footage (some of it shot by Guzman himself) with first-person accounts to slowly build up a picture of a complex man and an even more complex political situation.
This is not an objective record but a personal, passionate and poetic tribute to a man Guzman clearly reveres. And ultimately, the film is an attempt to conjure up a lost time when Guzman felt not only himself but his country to be young and full of hope. Calling up a Chile that was "both free and fair," on a democratic route to socialism, Guzman constructs a powerful investigation into the way the past connects to the present, and the way that memory is given form through art, poetry and, of course, film.
● No (Friday, September 13, 9:00 pm and Saturday, September 14, 9:00 pm), starring the always interesting Gael Garcia Bernal, is a deeply serious, mordantly funny look at the advertising campaign designed to get rid of dictator Augusto Pinochet. Yes, that's right. Democratic change might be rooted in the will of the people--but it also needs a catchy jingle. You know, something you can hum.
In 1988, international pressure forced Pinochet to attempt to legitimize his regime with a national referendum. In the month-long lead-up to the vote--yes or no for eight more years of Pinochet--the opposition had to be allowed 15 minutes of advertising every day.
Bernal plays René Saveedra, an ambitious but politically cautious ad exec, who is brought in to head the No campaign. His first pitch is a Don Draper-like gambit to sell the No platform more or less like Coke--democracy is young, happy and fun, with lots of people dancing in neon spandex! His clients, who come from 17 leftist opposition parties, all with competing ideologies, are not impressed.
No is a fascinating look at the fraught history of the era (though it is less successful dealing with Rene's personal backstory). Playing like a smart geopolitical thriller crossed with a dark office comedy, the film sets up satirical juxtapositions, as weighty discussions of politics contend with the ad man's eternal question: How do we sell this product?
The answer is a deft mixture of cynicism and sincere hope.
40 Years On: The Narration of Chilean Resistance and Exile in Cinema runs September 12-14 at Cinematheque.