Monday, April 15, 2013


You might notice as the film No begins that the colors are faded, the images aren’t very crisp and the whole thing kind of looks like a Youtube clip of an MTV video they recorded back in the eighties. And then you’ll begin to observe that this is a good thing. The tattered cinematography allows the director, Pablo Larrain, to weave news footage, telenovela clips, commercials and music videos from a quarter of a century ago seamlessly into his political drama of the 1988 referendum on the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, drawing the viewer back to that time and place.

This Chilean made, Spanish language film tells a fascinating story that makes reading the subtitles well worth the effort. In 1988. Pinochet was feeling the pressure from other nations (particularly the United States), to put himself in the hands of the electorate after years of military dictatorship. The vote will be a simple one. “Yes” means Pinochet will be in power another eight years and “No” means he must leave office.

The “No” campaign has little hope of success. They are given 15 minutes of television air time each day for twenty days. The “Yes” campaign also has 15 minutes a day (along with the other 23 and a half hours a day, along with glowing press and radio coverage guaranteed by the dictatorship).

The “No” campaign is composed of all political parties opposed to the President: Communists, Social Democrats, Libertarians, etc. Most have little hope of actually winning the election. But they hope to use the air time to expose the wrong doings of the government. They envision a daily barrage of the names and faces of the people wrongly imprisoned, killed or “disappeared” by the government.

But along comes a director of television commercials who wants to run a very different campaign. Rene (a fictionalized version of a real ad man played by Gael Garcia Bernal) wants to sell democracy using the same jingles, happy images and garish colors he uses to sell soda and microwave ovens. Many are appalled that these important issues would be trivialized in such a way, but Rene has one advantage that others in the campaign lack: he believes he can win.

The film follows Rene’s work to use all that he has learned in advertising (humor, imagery, marketing, etc) to bring down a dictator. Along the way, he is threatened with the loss of his job, his home and the safety of his family. But he persists.

Now if you want to avoid spoilers, please don’t look in any South American history books before you see the film. The central conflict in the film reminded me of one that many organizations face, that even the Church faces: should we ever compromise the things we hold dear to make our beliefs and values more palatable to the world? Especially, can we ever use humor to discuss such important issues as sin and salvation?

Watching the film, I thought about G. K. Chesterton’s response to critics who reprimanded him for making jokes about serious topics: "The truth is, as I have said, that in this sense the two qualities of fun and seriousness have nothing whatever to do with each other, they are no more comparable than black and triangular" and "[The critic] thinks that funny is the opposite of serious. Funny is the opposite of not funny, and of nothing else."

Jesus certainly changed His presentations between the disciples and the masses; from deep teaching to entertaining stories (Matthew 13: 10 – 17.)

This world desperately needs to overthrow the Dictatorship of the Prince of Darkness (Ephesians 12:6), and the church should use art, wit, laughter, every tool at our disposal to see that he loses the vote.

(No is rated R for language and violence.)

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