NO, THE GATEKEEPERS



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The movie No takes place in Chile in 1988 when the country’s president, Augusto Pinochet, has been forced by international pressure to hold a referendum on whether he should hold free elections.  His solution to keeping his seat of power is to give both his side and his opponents fifteen minutes a night, and no more, as a period of time in which to make their case (and Pinochet, as the reigning government, would basically then also have the rest of the day to indirectly make his case—like American politicians when they run for office even when they are “not running for office”).  In response, the other side convinces the top ad man of Chile, Rene Saavedra, to run their campaign.
The basic conceit of the story, and it’s a good one, is that instead of creating serious ads that deal with the seriousness of the subject seriously, Saavedra decides to sell the referendum the way he sells soda pop—with a jingle and upbeat music, showing lots of attractive people singing and dancing and partying (though Saavedra does seem to have an odd fetish for using mimes in everything he does—but it is the 1980’s).  And thus the campaign for “No” (or actually “No more”, which he cleverly turns it into) is born.
The film is directed and written by Pedro Peirano (who also directed the cult favorite Tony Manero about a serial killer obsessed with the lead character from Saturday Night Fever) from a play by Antonio Skarmeta.  Peirano’s stylistic approach is to shoot the movie digitally with a washed out brown patina that makes it look like those ancient home movies your relatives would make you watch every holiday. 
I’m not sure why this approach was chosen.  It doesn’t give the story a nostalgic feel (like the black and white photography of The Last Picture Show).  It doesn’t give the movie a new wave neo realism feel (like The Bicycle Thief).  All it does is give it a feel of Mad Men meets mumblecore, with all the enervative energy that latter aesthetic movement provides.
The most interesting and dramatically compelling moments in the film are when the characters debate the approach that Saavedra wants to use; whether they want to treat the campaign with all the gravity it deserves, or whether they want to win.  And Saavedra and his supporters have a point.  You don’t sell beer by convincing people how good it tastes or any facts about the product, you sell it by showing tons of sexy people partying while drinking it.  And Saavedra’s commercials are great; they made me want to vote “No”.  But so little of the movie seems focused on this aesthetic conflict, the movie sort of feels like it’s kind of meandering.
Gael Garcia Bernal plays the lead.  He’s not that effective, but I don’t think it’s his fault.  He doesn’t really seem to have much of a character to play.  His adman is almost as dull as the brown patina suffocating him.  He’s certainly no Don Draper.  Which may be the real problem here.  In the end, maybe the movie should have listened to its central idea and used a bit more of Sterling Cooper.
The Gatekeepers, the new documentary directed by Dror Moreh, is basically a series of talking head interviews with all the surviving former leaders of the Shin Bet, the Israeli security agency.  It’s a worthy film on an important subject with the most revelatory aspect of the film, at least to me, being that all the interviewees seem to come to the same conclusion: that the troubles that exist between Palestine and Israel today are the direct result of Israel not upholding the Oslo accords while allowing Israeli’s to move onto Palestinian land.  I was quite shocked at hearing this (not at the factuality of what they said so much as that these men would actually admit to it) and am a little surprised that this part of the film hasn’t received more attention. 
But though the subject matter is important and in many ways fascinating, I have to be honest and say that I did find my mind wandering more than I would have liked.  It’s not that it’s boring.  It’s not exactly.  But there are times when it did feel like I was attending a series of history lectures at college.  Like the professors, the talking heads get the job done and are sometimes riveting, but in that hit and miss way that’s not much more exciting than attending classes.
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