Wednesday, September 25, 2013

No (2012)

1 Nomination, 0 Wins

Nomination: Best Foreign Language Film - Chile

Prior to last year, only three films had been nominated in the same year for both Best Picture and Best Foreign Film (Z, Life is Beautiful, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), with all three winning the Oscar in the latter category.  Thus when Amour became the fourth film to receive nominations in both categories last year, there was little doubt that it would receive the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film over its fellow nominees.  Even with little chance to win the Academy Award, it was truly a monumental achievement for the film No even to be nominated.  Shot on Sony U-matic tape by a director almost entirely unknown to American audiences and centering on a political event few Academy voters were likely to remember or even know about in the first place, No was still able to secure a nomination as a result of its compelling look at a potentially stultifying subject with a sharp screenplay from Pedro Peirano and a strong leading performance by Gael Garcia Bernal.

No tells the story of the national plebiscite of 1988, a referendum presented to Chilean voters in which they were able to either elect General Augusto Pinochet to another term or call for an open election in the following year.  Despite his initial reluctance and disinterest, star ad man Rene Saavedra agrees to produce television commercials for the "No" campaign, and he battles reluctance from his cohorts to bring the modern tools of television commercials to the campaign.  The film details this campaign and how this television advertising effort effected the election.

Gael Garcia Bernal as Rene Saavedra in No
Gael Garcia Bernal in No.  Courtesy of Sony Classics.
The film has been criticized by some, especially from within Chile, as glorifying the creation of modern political television advertising in Chile.  Though the film does claim credit for the "No" campaign's victory on the television commercials, to me the film is as much an indictment of modern advertising as it is a celebration of the achievement.  Rene is a gun for hire, showing nearly no affinity for his cause, despite his familial relationship to those who strongly support the campaign.  Even after the final vote is held (I won't reveal what happened, though I don't believe citing a historical event counts as a spoiler alert), Rene moves on to his other work without much real excitement.  Those who passionately support the "No" campaign are so caught up in their passions that they are not able to see through the eyes of the majority of voters, and only the disinterested Rene is able to craft an effective campaign.  In No television advertising is a soulless and uncaring medium, but it is the only medium that matters.

No reminded me of one of my favorite eras of filmmaking, the bygone era of films like The Candidate and All the President's Men, smart political films that drew its excitement from the machinations of power.  No is the best example of one of these films I have seen in years, perhaps the best since Michael Clayton, and were it not for the emotional beauty of Amour, it might just have snuck away with an Oscar.

Remaining: 3127 films, 857 Oscars, 5350 nominations

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