10 Questions for Director Pablo Larraín | Film reviews, news & interviews
10 Questions for Director Pablo Larraín
The Oscar-nominated Chilean filmmaker on ending his dictatorship trilogy with a feelgood movie
Often it takes a generation or two before a country can address its dark days on films; Hitler didn’t feature in a central role in a German film until Downfall, in 2004. This timorousness was certainly the case in Chile, where in the immediate years following the end of General Pinochet’s dictatorship, in 1990, the local cinema was dominated by sex comedies.
But the renaissance in the country’s film industry over the past decade has been accompanied by a willingness to look back. Andres Wood’s Machuca led the way, in 2004, with a powerful child’s-view account of the days leading to the army coup against the socialist Salvador Allende. Even more striking, four years later, was Pablo Larraín’s Tony Manero – a veritably thunderbolt of a film that was so imaginatively leftfield that it spoke of the corrosive effect of repression the world over, as well as giving an entirely unexpected perspective on Saturday Night Fever.
The period is a mystery to me; it’s something that you try to understand, but you never can
The son of politicians, Larraín was born in 1976 and was still a child when it ended. And yet his fascination for the period has led not just to Tony Manero, but now to a trilogy of dictatorship films. While Manero concerned itself with the height of the repression, and Post Mortem with the beginning, the coup itself, No considers the regime’s final days.
In 1988 Pinochet gave into pressure from the international community to hold a referendum on his continued presidency. Much to the dictator’s - and everyone else’s - surprise, the Chilean people found the courage to vote "No". Larraín’s film charts the stranger-than-fiction story behind the No television campaign, with Gael Garcia Bernal starring as an amalgam of the real-life ad men whose counter-intuitively happy campaign – with the slogan "Happiness is coming" – turned the tide. It also features the great Alfredo Castro – who starred in both of the previous films, and whose Manero is arguably one of the most original and repugnant villains in the history of cinema – and the director’s wife and also regular collaborator, Antonia Zegers.
Not surprisingly, given the upbeat historical moment it depicts, No is a much lighter and more engaging film than its predecessors – a feelgood movie with a deeply serous subject – receiving standing ovations when it premiered in Cannes in 2012. It is a wonderful conclusion to a remarkable trio of films, whose Oscar nomination for best foreign language film merely confirms Larraín’s arrival as a world-class director.
DEMETRIOS MATHEOU: Explain your fascination with Pinochet’s dictatorship?
PABLO LARRAÍN: Many people ask, "Why are guys from your generation talking about this?" I can only speak for myself. Chile divides into the people who lived during the military coup, and the people who didn’t. I didn’t. I was born under the dictatorship, and grew up hearing tales about the coup, which turned into a sealed box, an enigma that captured my imagination. The period is a mystery to me; it’s something that you try to understand, but you never can. I’m not obsessed. In between these films I’ve made an action series for HBO — cocaine dealers, bullets, car chases. Very different. But that period in Chile intrigues me. And of course it offers great dramatic possibilities.
When did you first think of ending the trllogy with the No campaign?
When we were in Cannes with Tony Manero, in 2008, and someone brought me an idea about the referendum. But my first reaction was very cautious. The previous movies I’ve made on the subject are from a private point of view, about unknown characters who are victims of their circumstances. This one is the guy who somehow changes the destiny of my country.
So what convinced you?
Just time. I got older, you become a little bit stronger. But of course other people had concerns. When we started we had to get permission to use the original campaign footage. The people who did this campaign have become pretty well-known and respected. So when I came to talk to them their first reaction was "No, no, no. Not you, not the guy from Tony Manero." I think their reaction was pretty reasonable. If the guy from Tony Manero and Post Mortem was asking to make a film about my life, I would have been worried. But we worked on the script and when they read it their reaction was beautiful, because it was a huge flashback for them. So they started to talk to us, and trust us, and gave information very generously. And then we said, "Why don’t you act in the movie?" They are all in the film, in different little characters here and there.
It’s not just the ad men. The campaign’s anchor man is clearly playing himself, as he prepares to go in front of the TV cameras. Then when you show the original footage, it’s him as he was in the Eighties. Are there many examples of that?
There are people throughout the entire film. When we wanted to recreate the shooting, we called the real people involved, who are now 24 years older, to play themselves. We didn’t use make-up, we didn't want to make them look younger. You see them as they were then, and as they are today.
Presumably, one reason for this device is to say to the audience "This is not just a period film; this is also about Chile today."
Yeah, you’ve got it. That’s my trick, that’s what I want to do, the reason I’m making this movie.
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