Rated 4.0

Revisiting the 1988 plebiscite by which Chile shook off a terrible dictatorship, director Pablo Larraín's film nicely subdues feel-good instincts in favor of nuanced, stoic insight. It depicts the surreally historic moment when international pressure forced a referendum on the Pinochet regime, and pro and con campaigns sprang up to duke it out on Chilean TV. Gael García Bernal stars as a hotshot ad exec who takes charge of the risky bid to rally fellow citizens against eight more years of official brutality. Told he needs an anthem, he shrewdly insists on a jingle instead—“Chile, happiness is coming!”—and the battle for freedom takes shape as a contest between callow, too-chipper “advertising language” and duplicitous fear-mongering propaganda. Daringly, the whole movie was shot on U-matic video, for that visually parched, late '80s look. With the TV imagery and the jean jackets looking equally washed out, Larraín's aesthetic cleverly enlists the audience in yearning for a more beautiful future. It also illuminates a moral intelligence that's rare among retrospective election movies: something beyond just black and white.