June 19, 2013
Just Say ‘No’: Director Pablo Larraín Tells How Chile Got Rid of a Dictator
Posted on Feb 15, 2013
By Emily Wilson
Wilson: Did you identify with Saavedra at all since you make commercials?
Larraín: Not really. I’ve made movies about serial killers and people that worked in morgues and musicians, so if I related to each character, I would be a psychopath. I just try to find something interesting and human. I just try to create a human that is in a kind of crisis. And that crisis is something you can never know what it’s about. I don’t even think the character himself knows. So what you do is create a huge mystery around him, and that’s beautiful. The audience keeps wondering who he is. You look at him, and you know there’s something he’s hiding. And that’s essential in a movie because that’s where the audience starts working. That’s what’s the most interesting in a movie, not just for the moviemakers, but for the audience. It’s not about what you show; it’s about what you hide. What you hide is what people think about.
Wilson: What was hidden with this character?
Larraín: We don’t know. Gael would keep asking me, and I kept not answering. Then he got used to it. People do that. I think everybody carries a mystery. I think that’s fantastic. The challenge is to capture it. Not what is he thinking or what’s going on inside. Just the sensation he’s carrying a mystery.
Wilson: What did you think about the campaign’s decision to sell happiness?
Larraín: It was unbelievable at that moment. Today it’s funny because time changes the perspective. It was really amazing and unbelievably fresh. It was a huge move. Think about it. You’ve been 15 years in this problem, and you’re not allowed to talk about this because they could really hurt you. So when you have the movement, the legal moment, 15 minutes for 27 days in a row and instead of telling everyone who this man is and what he’s really done, you play another card and say, “Look, this is going to be nice.” And you show people dancing and having a good time and riding horses and at first people say, “You’ve gotta be kidding,” but then you realize it’s just a perfect move because you’re telling people something could change.
Wilson: Did people feel like this campaign was why Pinochet lost?
Larraín: Yes. I don’t want to say it was the only thing responsible. Not at all. There were millions of Chileans in the streets for so many years demonstrating. There were a lot of politicians working on it and registering people to vote. They created all the conditions, and they needed a catalyzer —something that would make people react and go and vote. It’s impossible to know what would have happened if the campaign were different. But it was so important then, I don’t think anyone in my country would tell you the TV campaign was useless. There are a lot of people who think there were other elements that were more important, which is fair enough. But my opinion is that if you wouldn’t have had this campaign, they would have lost the referendum.
Larraín: Yeah, because, you know, it was 56 and 44, and what happened is not only was the No campaign very good; it was that the Yes guys went crazy and their reaction was very stupid. Every move they could do it was just worse every moment. So that also helped to encourage people and create this desperation on the Yes side. If the No campaign was aggressive, it would have encouraged the Yes side. It’s not only what they did on the No side, it’s that when you are in a political battle, we all know that mistakes near the elections are expensive.
Wilson: It’s very rare for leaders to have a referendum. Why do you think Pinochet allowed it?
Larraín: In 1980, we had another referendum about the constitution to approve it or not. And all the people that worked in the army, they voted, like, six times and dead people voted and they fixed it, and it was very exposed that they did that. In that constitution, everything was all mapped out, including this referendum and that if he lost, he would stay as chief commander of the army. Then in 1994, he would become a senator for life, which was what happened. It wasn’t only the international pressure; it’s that he said he was going to do it. And he thought he was going to win, cheating or not, and he couldn’t cheat. He lost , and when he was thinking about just saying, “I don’t care, I’m staying,” one of his close generals—and it’s in the movie—outside the presidential palace said, “I think we lost.” It was just shocking. There was nothing Pinochet could do because someone had said it outside. So he just lost, and it was wonderful.
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