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As Brazil mobilises against a coup d'état, Dirty Movies shows its solidarity by remembering the Chilean film 'No', the importance of the popular vote and the horrors of life without democracy

Brazil held the largest electronic elections in world history less than 18 months ago, and president Dilma Rousseff was reelected with 51.6% of the vote. More than 100 million Brazilians cast their vote in the ballot machines across the nation in October 2014, and the largest country in Latin America set an enviable example to the rest of the world. The process was fast, smooth and fraud-free, in stark contrast to countries like the United States, where the counting process is often convoluted and inaccurate.

Sadly this democratic milestone is now dangerously under threat. DMovies would like to use a powerful movie made four years ago in another Latin American country as a reminder of the importance of popular vote, particularly in young democracies such as Brazil.

The film No is set in Chile in 1988. After 15 dark years of military dictatorship, the ruling junta asks Chileans to vote in a national plebiscite in order to decide whether the General Augusto Pinochet should stay in power for another eight years, or whether there should be elections the following year. The dictator had bowed to international pressure confident that the “yes” vote would win, and that he would remain in power, dismissing his opponents as “communists” and “homosexuals”. To his disappointment and most of the world’s delight, he lost the plebiscite and democracy was restored in the country soon after.

Gael García Bernal plays the fictional René Saavedra, a successful advertisement creator approached by the “No” militants. René deftly crafted a very positive campaign, populating the 15-minute television spots with jingles, dance, music and comedy. The publicist favoured a lighthearted approach, and hardly denounced the atrocities committed by the dirty and oppressive regime: 35,000 victims of human rights violation (murder and torture) and more than 200,000 fleeing the country. He believed that a constructive message would work better than fearmongering (despite the fact that there was plenty to be feared). His maxim was: “a little lighter, a little nicer”. Despite the upbeat nature of the campaign, René was constantly monitored by Pinochet’s secret service.

Larraín created a highly politically-charged movie, which is still straightforward and easy to digest, just like the campaign run by René. The film was made with a 1983 U-matic camera, making it almost impossible to distinguish the fictionalised parts from actual archive footage. As a result, the film feels very realistic; at times it is even difficult to believe that René never existed in real life. No is never manipulative and melodramatic. Quite the opposite: García Bernal’s character is ambiguous and it is never clear whether his motivations are ideological or merely professional.

The camera in No is mostly handheld and the images are often somber and grainy, even when the characters are on the beach. This mood is representative of the fear to which Chile was subject for 15 years. Larraín successfully captured a turning point in the history of the Latin American country, as the it walks out of the shadows of a violent dictatorship. The director beautifully reconciles sombreness with joy and hope. Ultimately, No is a film about rescuing hope and sporting a smile in the face of adversity.

Larraín’s film reminded Latin America and the world that the importance of the popular vote cannot be overstated. The plebiscite enabled Chile to close a very dark chapter of its history. At the time, very few people expected that the “No” vote would win, as Pinochet had firm control over the country’s mostly right-wing media.

This conjecture has many similarities with Brazil right now: it was the popular vote that put Dilma Rousseff in power despite fierce opposition from the media in the country, which is also largely right-wing. The difference is that Brazil could be soon walk in the wrong direction into the shadows of oligarchical ruling. An alliance of the media and politicians are currently attempting to stage a parliamentary coup d’état in order to overthrow Rousseff, possibly turning back the clock of democracy of Brazil.

Today, March 31st 2016, is the 52nd anniversary of the military coup that overthrew the democratically-elected Brazilian president João Goulart, and established a dictatorship that lasted 21 years. Millions of Brazilians are expected to take to the streets today in defence of the democratic establishment and against the imminent coup. DMovies does not like dirty regimes. Instead, it firmly believes in democratic institutions and that the popular vote should be respected.

No can also be viewed online at Curzon Home Cinema. Watch the film trailer below:

For more politically-explosive movies, read the 5-splat review of Larraín latest film The Club (just click here). This equally powerful movie deals with erring Catholic priests, paedophilia and impunity, and it is out right now in cinemas across the UK and Europe.

By Victor Fraga - 31-03-2016

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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