No bothered me right from the beginning. It was shot in 4:3, with “low definition, ¾ inch Sony U-matic magnetic tape, which was widely used by television news in Chile in the 80s.” (Wikipedia). Besides being low def, the shots often exhibit extreme color fringing and greatly exaggerated blown-out white balance. The effect is so bad it flashed through my mind to walk out on the picture, but my cooler self prevailed and I stuck with it. There are times when little technical or viewing problems occur; recently for example, when I watched Mama, there was a too-loud humming/buzzing sound emanating from the theater walls. In that case, it was quite distracting at first, but I was able to tune it out quickly enough and concentrate on what a bad movie I was watching.
I am not averse to experimental filming techniques. Lars von Trier’s masterpiece Breaking the Waves [prior post] employed deliberately washed-out colors to brilliant effect. The Blair Witch Project‘s actor-held, square camcorder frame convincingly put you in the middle of the action. Blair Witch has been mocked and imitated, and may now seem a little dated or even silly, but it was revolutionary and groundbreaking at the time and created a style that is still the blueprint for many films — examples include Quarantine, the Paranormal Activity franchise, Cloverfield and Chronicle.
But in No, the filming technique comes across as a conceited attempt to make up for the fact that the filmmakers have no idea how to put together a good movie. The visual style is supposed to mesh with actual archival footage of the “No on Pinochet” campaign. To me it had the opposite effect and stood as an obstacle to conveyance of the story. There is a great deal of archival footage in the movie, but it’s impact is washed away as it blends in with the narrative film. The low-def look is also completely spoiled by the crisp yellow subtitles laid over the whole thing.
Again, I thought it was a conceited, and even arrogant and insulting way of making a movie, and added nothing of value. Guess what? They had film in the 80’s too. Maybe use that instead. Rather than creating a thematic environment à la Blair Witch, the film style never becomes comfortable or appropriate.
I wanted to express my thoughts on the technical aspects first, because the movie’s dull look very much parallels the monotony of the storytelling. There is I think a fascinating and even thrilling true story to be told here, but this movie almost entirely fails to tell it. It feels haphazardly slapped together and without a clear vision, as if the director’s rudder has snapped off and the only thing keeping the project afloat is the tightly clung-to vintage equipment used to film it. Decent but hardly exceptional performances, moments of slight comic relief, and the extant historical content serve to redeem the movie a bit, but this thing’s a mess.
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No highlights why I am writing this blog. It scores high on the Tomatometer — a big 93% as of this writing, but I pretty much hated it. It was a chore to get through, and a waste of good subject matter as well as my evening. Even an average documentary would have been a huge improvement. 2/10.