The hype surrounding Chilean film No (2012) has been building since its screening at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, and with its nomination at the 85th Academy Awards as best Foreign Language Film it has attracted even more attention. No has been well received at festivals – including Sundance Film Festival, where it was played as the spotlight – so this week ÉCU has decided to spotlight the star of the film, Mexican actor Gael García Bernal. The movie documents the political campaigns of 1988 in Chile. One side was geared towards maintaining the military dictatorship in Chile by keeping General Augusto Pinochet in power for another eight years (the “Yes” campaign) and the other was pushing for an open election (the “No” campaign).

García Bernal’s character René works in advertising and an interesting part of this historical moment was the manipulation of advertising tactics to further a political message. René is part of the “No” campaign which strives to encourage people to vote against Pinochet using upbeat films and promotional material. The film uses real footage from 1988 and its director Pablo Larraín decided to recreate the look of Chilean television news by shooting No in low definition, ¾ inch Sony U-matic magnetic tape (commonly used in the news in Chile in the 1980s). The film earned García Bernal award for Best Actor at the 2012 Abu Dhabi Film Festival.

Growing up in Mexico, García Bernal’s experienced for himself a life seeped in politics and was attracted to this role as a man endeavouring to change the political situation of his country. Previous to this role he acted in other films with a political edge such as Fidel (2002) and The Motorcycle Diaries (2004) – in which he played Che Guevara. The number of films he has appeared in is very impressive, particularly considering the highly commendable directors he has worked with. Amongst others he can cite having worked with Pedro Almodóvar, Walter Salles, Alejandro González Iñárritu and Michel Gondry. He began acting when only a toddler and become a soap opera heart-throb by the time he reached his late teens. He has acted in well-known films such as Amores Perros (2000), Y tu mamá también (2001), Bad Education (2004), Babel (2006), The Science of Sleep (2006) and The Loneliest Planet (2011).

Amores Perros (directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu) also received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film (in 2000) and has been described as the “Mexican Pulp Fiction”. There are three stories which all take part in Mexico city and as reflected in the title (perro means dog in Spanish), dogs are central to the film both literally and for their representation of loyalty. In the tale containing García Bernal’s character, Octavio, the theme of infidelity and disloyalty is explored as Octavio is in love with his brother’s girlfriend and tries to convince her to run away with him. He gets involved in dog fighting to generate the funds he would need to leave with her. There was actually quite a real risk in filming these parts in such rough areas of Mexico City, and the film provides a harsh perspective of the bleak sides of life in the city.

These two Oscar-nominated films of García Bernal’s are certainly worth checking out if you’re looking for an introduction to his work. He is also a film director so ÉCU hopes to see more of his own work, perhaps on the indie film scene!

Gill Gillespie

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