Dec 12, 2013
The Chilean Mad Men of ‘No’
Posted on Mar 23, 2013
By Sheerly Avni
Avni: Some of the film’s funniest moments come when your character is seeking out the perfect jingle to sell the idea of democracy. It’s absurd and delightful but also a bit cynical.
Bernal: And in a sense, any “free election” is always about selling a product. Look back at the first debate between Romney and Obama. Afterwards, the focus was not on the issues that the candidates had debated but on their performances. It was just “Romney was more secure, Obama seemed like he was somewhere else,” etc. It was all about who sells the better image. It seemed as if Obama had forgotten that it was not about content, but about being a good actor. ... Or, if not acting, at least appearing decisive, confident, presidential.
Democracy has become really perverted. You saw this clearly in the No campaign, as if the competition were merely a Manichean decision of Pepsi vs. Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola equals happiness and Pepsi equals the new generation, so which do you like better?
And that degradation is not necessarily new. The philosophers who first articulated the concepts of democracy, from the Greeks through the French and the Germans in the Enlightenment, they all ran into a point where they hit a brick wall—saying, “shit, the electoral process in some way perverts the essence of democracy.”
Avni: This is a dark reading, both of the electoral process and the film itself.
Bernal: It is very dark. But that was 1988. Back in the day, the jingle was everything. Communications and advertising were at a different stage. As you see in the film, in 1988, you could sell the public on the idea that a simple kitchen appliance could change your life.
But now, you could make a promise like that, and we know it’s not true—not for a washing machine, not for a candidate. The public is losing that credulity. I personally never believe any campaign or anything I see on TV. And so my feeling is that the true political engagement happens day to day, in a much more complex, less Manichean way than what is offered by a referendum or an election. Otherwise it’s a waste, like watching Obama spend his entire first term campaigning for his second term.
“No” is a film that—at least in my reading of it—calls for the democratic process as a day-to-day phenomenon. True democracy is not just about a campaign, it comes from constructing movement, dialogue and confrontation as well, and by constructing involvement that ultimately might not even need an election.
Avni: So what does “involvement” mean? For example, your own festival, Ambulante, aren’t you just taking films that espouse a progressive point of view out to the masses? Couldn’t Ambulante be called the ultimate in propaganda?
Bernal: I think Ambulante is the direct opposite of propaganda. Or rather, it combines a form of propaganda with a form of engagement. Of course we are selling a product. We’re selling Ambulante—the idea that you should watch documentaries, or when we program, we are telling audiences, “You should watch this documentary, it’s incredible.” But the documentaries we choose, and the context in which we choose them, for example by hosting debates and encouraging audience interaction, invites audiences to think critically about what they see.
Part of the reason why Mexico has developed a critical, educated group of people is because of organizations like Ambulante.
Avni: And so despite the success of the campaign in the film, are you saying you are against these kinds of campaigns?
Bernal: Are you trying to make me choose for or against, one or the other, just like in the film?
Bernal: That’s exactly the problem, because an ad campaign is not about content. And you know, I’m more interested in content. [Laughs.] Aren’t you?
To read Truthdig’s interview with “No” director Pablo Larraín, click here.
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