Mexican film star Gael Garcia Bernal would be willing to throw his formidable talent, not to mention his piercing gaze, into the Hollywood blockbuster juggernaut - if only the films were a bit more… subtle.
“Are they willing to do a film without a flashback to help us understand?” he asks. “All these films insist on having this moment where they explain why the character is the way he is or she is. It's the opposite of emotional empathy."
Gael Garcia Bernal has got Hollywood knocking at his door, but he has certain conditions
Garcia Bernal, one of Latin America’s hottest stars after appearing as Che Guevara in ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’ after the Oscar-nominated ‘Amores Perros’, is convinced his current film, the Oscar-nominated ‘No’, would never have made it past the studio system…
“They’d never do anything with this complexity. It’s a film that leaves many things unsaid or unexplained, and a studio would point out at least 60 moments they’d think needed more story to explain it.” (This seems a bit harsh – what about ‘Inception’? - and the Mexican firebrand has obviously had his concerns abated, because he is currently working on a big-budget retelling of 'Zorro').
Fortunately for Garcia Bernal, he is not short of work, including this week's UK release of ‘No', which tells the story – through a mixture of drama and authentic archive footage – of the campaign waged to oust Chile's General Pinochet from power in 1988.
To satisfy his international spectators, Pinochet agreed to a plebiscite, with his rival party allowed a tiny amount of TV airtime to campaign for his removal. This ignited a passion among a bunch of what the billboards are calling ‘Chile’s Mad Men’ to build an electoral campaign built on the pursuit of happiness.
Garcia Bernal plays René Saavedra, an ad man with a mission in 'No'
Although Garcia Bernal is an established political activist in his native Mexico, even he wasn't aware of this story...
“In western history, it's more known how Pinochet got into power than how he got out. Not only that, democracy doesn't, for some reason, because of its ambiguity, because of its peaceful motion, doesn't get the recognition it deserves.
“But what happened in Chile in 1988 didn't only change Latin America, it changed the world, it’s one thing that really shaped the world we live in. I had very little idea about this, the importance that publicity played in this movement.
Although Garcia Bernal claims no complete accuracy for the events in the film (“it’s a fable, a story that belongs to everyone”), sitting with him is the man on his whom his character in the film is partly based - former advertising exec Eugenio Garcia – and he has no reservations about how the film has told his story...
“I learnt from this film. When you live in history, you make a narrative in your head. For Gael, this is a world revolution, for me it's a little box in my head. I've been very happy with this interpretation.”
Garcia Bernal is happy that he doesn't know why his character does what he does... "I have my guesses, but it's best left to the audience" The pair met shortly before production began, but Garcia contented himself with only a few pointers to the actor playing him... “The script would say, 'I like it,' and he pointed out he'd be far more likely to say 'It works,'” explains Garcia Bernal.
Garcia, still an Ad Man to his bones, explains, “It's not my taste, it's my profession. I don't have to like it, it just has to be effective.”
I ask Garcia what he thinks of the campaign for this film, which concentrates on the 'Mad Men' aspect of their campaign – the big brains collaborating creatively – when, to me, it seems far more of a backroom tale of a political revolution. As an ad man, how would he have sold it? He shrugs amiably…
“The best film I’ve seen all year? It works.”
'No' is in UK cinemas from Friday 8 February, and is in the shortlist for Best Foreign Film at this year's Oscars, presented on Sunday 23 February. Watch our exclusive clip above, and the trailer below...