IN movies, the Chilean dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet has generally and accurately been portrayed as a brutal regime, in which dissidents could be exiled, tortured, murdered and "disappeared" by the state with chilling impunity.
Yet one can't help conclude the dictatorship was viewed more charitably in the country itself. Under foreign pressure, Pinochet himself put his leadership to a vote in 1988 in a straight yes-no plebiscite. Backed by the wealthy and the business community, Pinochet damn near won.
Chilean director Pablo Larrain focuses on the battle behind the plebiscite with No, avoiding the backroom deals and compromises between the anti-Pinochet coalition and perversely emphasizing the actual ad campaigns mounted by both factions.
Gael Garcia Bernal plays hip young advertising exec René Saavedra, a man making a good living at an agency selling cola and microwave ovens to a new generation of Chileans, utilizing MTV-era visuals. The plebiscite guarantees both sides of the debate will have 15 minutes of television airtime, and René is approached to create ads that will motivate the citizenry, cowed by Pinochet's ruthless power, to vote no.
René's notions of sending a positive message ("Chile, Happiness is coming!") rankle the old-school radicals who simply want to play up Pinochet's history of human-rights violations.
But some of René's ideas take hold in the nightly broadcasts. His work is so successful, the Yes side drafts Rene's conservative boss Lucho (Alfredo Castro) to specifically discredit René's work.
Even more menacing, Pinochet-backed thugs and police attempt to intimidate the No side with acts of vandalism and sabotage, acts that seem to compel René to greater efforts, not so much to protect his young son, but to act in his best interests for the future of the country.
Larrain makes the dubious choice of filming the movie with Sony U-Matic video cameras of the period. This makes for a seamless blend when he inserts actual ads from both sides of the campaign. But it also renders much of the film blearily ugly. (No need to invest in the Blu-ray here, given the film's overall diminished resolution.)
But the overall work is pretty fascinating, especially in today's era of ever-more-virulent attack ads. Three stars
The Trouble With Harry
ALFRED Hitchcock's films could be visually striking (Vertigo), or stark (Psycho) or pleasantly artificial (Rear Window), but you could rarely describe them as picture-postcard beautiful.
The exception: The Trouble with Harry. Hitch's droll dark comedy from 1955 is set in an gorgeously autumnal New England, where the titular character causes all sorts of trouble by virtue of his being, well, dead. Harry was an unpleasant, sketchy guy in life, and the various small-town types who discover his corpse (including a glib John Forsythe and Shirley MacLaine in her screen debut) have reason to believe they may be partly responsible for his mysterious death.
An example of Hitchcock's black humour at its most benign, this is precisely the kind of movie that warrants trading up to the higher-resolution format. Four stars