I can't say that I can remember the historical moment depicted in this film. I have a distinct memory of related events earlier – like going to hear a speech from a former Allende-era cabinet minister in the building now occupied by the Public Health Department in Parc Lafontaine. That was an evening of speech in Spanish (which I didn't understand) translated into French (which I did, except that it got increasingly Spanish as the evening went on). I remember going to this with my friend Monica, whose family had fled Hungary to Chile, only to later find themselves in a situation that must have looked as free as the one they left.
So, yes, aware of Chile and Pinochet. Saw the dissenting American view in the film Missing. When I came out of that film, in the former Place du Canada cinema, we had to walk past artillery installed as statuary in the park, which I always found a bit creepy. I suppose I can be happy that I was not in Montréal during the October Crisis in 1970, when I would have seen actual troops on the streets. My life is truly sheltered. So I really had no conscious awareness of this plebiscite as it was happening, and went into this not knowing what to expect, from a historical standpoint.
Gaël Garcia Bernal played his creative advertising guy role excellently. Not particularly political, at least at the beginning, he brings his expertise in selling things to this most political of questions. And, like in countless referendum/plebiscite situations the world over, he is challenged by how to make the negative answer positive and happy. In the Chilean situation, with historical extremes of violence and repression, that would have been particularly difficult, especially with passionate people who believe in their option, but also want to use their unprecedented opportunity to set the record straight on what the Pinochet regime had done.
Our hero persists, sticking to the positive message, even as the regime tries to intimidate the "No" side, and even as the creativity of his own boss is brought into the mix on the "Yes" side. He goes from someone who is not quite apolitical (who could be in the context of a brutal dictatorship?), but certainly not politically active, to someone who sees the violence up close and threatening to his own friends and family and has no choice but to become more invested in the work he is doing. The struggle to stick to what you know about marketing must be so much more difficult when you start to get a personal understanding of the motivations of the people who want to show the ugliness of the regime.
Positivity wins every time, though. And the "No" jingle is stuck in my head, or at least the tune of it, as I am no further ahead on my Spanish than I was in the late 1970s/early 1980s. That's marketing.
The other thing the film really underlined for me was the importance of international attention (except mine, I guess, not having been aware at the time!). The regime was pushed into the plebiscite in an attempt to legitimize itself in the eyes of the world, and you won't be believed in that process unless you let the world in to watch how it unfolds. The presence of foreign observers and journalists made it much more difficult to falsify the result, as much as you might want to.
The film is shot with techniques to make the integration of actual footage from the time more seamless, so it isn't as technically pretty as we are used to these days. Some of it even looked like it was in 3D, but we didn't have the glasses, so it just had that "shift" effect.
The other shift effect that happened during our screening was that two guys in the row ahead of us, off to our left at the beginning of the film, suddenly got up and moved over to sit in front of us about halfway through. Why will be forever a mystery to me, but I might just go with the explanation of another friend of mine who wasn't there: they must have wet their pants and wanted to move to a drier seat. Their quest for dryness made it more difficult for us to stretch out our legs. "No!" to moving seats mid-film!