Pablo Larraín talks NO
In 1988, Chile was finally liberated from the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship with the help of an unorthodox ad campaign. Director Pablo Larraín explores this campaign in his new film, “NO,” which is nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
Gael García Bernal plays Rene Saavedra, the director of the public campaign that inspired the people of Chile to voice their protest through the Democratic process foreign to the country at the time. Larraín and Bernal team up on a film that has already won Best Foreign Language Film at the Sao Paolo International Film Festival and the C.I.C.A.E. Award at the presitigious Cannes Film Festival.
Larraín spoke to The Reel Story about competing against “Amour” at the Oscars, what it was like growing up in the Pinochet dictatorship, and what he hopes this film will inspire audiences to do.
AG: Congratulations on your film, all of the awards it’s already won, and your nomination for the Oscar for Best Foreign-Language Film!
PL: Thank you, it’s wonderful news. The Oscar nomination helps and is amazing for the movie, because it hasn’t been released in Chile or in Europe. That’s going to happen quite soon. It really helps, because more people will be aware of it. More people will hear about it, and that’s fantastic.
AG: What is it about this chapter of history that really compelled you to make it into a film?
PL: That’s a good question, but it’s hard to answer that. I’ve approached all of these movies through a very spontaneous process. I never really decided to make three movies on the subject. One came after the other one, because it just felt right at that time. I do think that there are so many questions that I’ve asked myself during all these years, and maybe I tried to answer those questions with my films. The problem is that I didn’t get any answers, but that’s another story. I just think the subject is so fascinating. I grew up in the dictatorship when I was very young, and when I became an adult, everything was so interesting and hard to understand at the same time. So approaching this process was some kind of necessary path for me throughout the course of what I do, which is movies.
AG: What was the most important part of this story for you to portray with the most truth as possible?
PL: I think that in this story, there are enough things that make this very original somehow. Most people know how Pinochet got into power, but not all of them know how he got out. We had something very original, especially since dictators don’t usually leave through a Democratic process. They usually leave power through shootouts or just leave a brother in power, you know? So it was very original, and the way that it happened as well. They had this campaign on TV, the way that the NO campaign was made, using tools that come from advertising, all that was just fascinating. We thought we had a great story there, and we wanted to tell it. As a filmmaker, when you face a story that is so original with beautiful and unique elements, it’s going to be more attractive.
AG: Did you get to know the real Rene Saavedra?
PL: Oh, of course. We worked with him. It’s also not just him. His character is based on two guys. He’s an amalgam of two characters, and yeah, he worked with us all the time.
AG: What did they think of the film?
PL: You’d have to ask them, but I’m pretty sure they really liked it.
AG: In Latin America, people can be very critical of the people that play the main roles in films like this, so how did you go about choosing Gael Garcia Bernal in place of a Chilean actor?
PL: We chose him, because he’s a great actor. That’s the main reason. There were some people that were concerned or thought it was dangerous or a bad idea, but that happened while we were in production, before we released the film. When the movie was released, it wasn’t an issue. Nobody ever complained or said anything against Gael. His performance is not only wonderful, but his Chilean accent is brilliant. It’s something really hard to do. I don’t know how he does it, but he did it. We had no problem. The discussion over the movie was never about his accent or the fact that he is Mexican. It was never about that. It was always about something else, which was interesting. It’s the responsibility of Gael’s talent also.
AG: You mentioned growing up during the Pinochet dictatorship. What was the thing you remember most about it that you incorporated into this film?
PL: I think it’s more than facts. It’s the mood. The frustration, the air, and what is probably the hardest thing to do in a movie is to be able to spread that, to show that, to make the audience feel that sensation. It’s not on a dramatic level, but more in an atmosphere level. It’s interesting to try to achieve that so that the audience would somehow feel how you felt. It’s probably the hardest thing to do but at the same time the most interesting thing to do.
AG: Congratulations on achieving that. The whole time, you know there’s this underlying fear and tension, but it’s never overwhelming. You did a really great job of that.
PL: Thank you! In movies, it’s more interesting what you’re hiding than what you’re actually telling. What you hide is like humans. When you meet someone, everyone has a mystery. Everyone is always hiding something. Why would a movie avoid that? So it’s interesting.
AG: If you had been a publicist like Rene Saavedra instead of a director, and you could create a campaign to change something in the world, what would that be?
PL: I would like to see how money gets to be spread in a more equal way. I don’t understand how we have created a society that allows some people to be so wealthy and people so poor at the same time. I’m not talking about Socialist. I’m talking about just spreading the wealth a little bit. In the United States, only 400 people have more money than 150 million people. That is not right. My country has the same problem. So if I could pick a change to make, that would be it, to create a more equal system.
AG: Going back to awards, have you gotten a chance to watch the film NO is up against? If so, what do you think makes yours different?
PL: I’ve seen “A Royal Affair” and “Amour.” I think both are good movies, and I think Amour is an extraordinary film. I’m glad to be in that pool, in that short list. They’re great films, so I’m proud to be part of that showcase.
AG: So what would it mean to you to win the Oscar?
PL: I don’t know! If it happens, I’ll tell you. What I can tell you is that the nomination is fantastic for the film. We spoke about how it’s a good energy for the film, and I would love to use it. Besides that, it’s hard for me to tell you more. I’ve never been in this situation before, so I don’t know much. I wish we could win it! (Laughs)
AG: So what was the most fun for you throughout the whole process of this film and the end product?
PL: I wish I could have a better answer, but pretty much everything. We had a lot of great times thinking about it, researching it, and of course releasing the film. It’s been pretty interesting this whole process. I’ve been learning a lot and having a great time.
AG: Is there anything else you’d like the readers to know about the film that I haven’t mentioned?
PL: I guess just that this movie shows that when people get together to change something, it’s possible. It’s an epic that is not fake or created by a screenwriter. This is something that actually happened, and it shows that when people get together and make change, it’s very interesting. If that encourages anybody to do and follow what they want to do, I’ll be more than glad.