Director of “No”
Dallas, Texas, January 21, 2013
Written by Ronald P. Salfen
Presbyterian Outlook: Congratulations on your Oscar nomination (for best foreign film).
Sr. Pablo Larrain: Thank you.
Presbyterian Outlook: This film was originally based on a play, right?
Sr. Pablo Larrain: Yes, but the play itself was never published. It did help give us a framework for the script, but it still took many years to prepare.
PO: Have you received criticism because the star of the film, Gael Garcia Bernal, is Mexican rather than Chilean?
SPL: At first, yes, but now, after audiences in my country have seen it, the response has been in so many other places that this issue is just not the focus. In fact, three times in the week before we began shooting, I asked Gael if he would be tutored in his accent. Each time, he declined, so I just quit asking, and figured we’ll just see what happens. I was amazed. As soon as the cameras started rolling, he started talking like us! I don’t know how he did it. And then during the breaks, he would revert to this Mexican accent. I’ve never met anyone else who could do that. It would be a little like a man from Dallas switching to Scottish or something. It was amazing.
PO: When you say “accent,” do you mean the standard grammatical practice in Spanish of placing the accent on a place other than the penultimate syllable, the second from the last?
SPL: It’s not just putting the emphasis on different syllables, it’s that in Chile, language is so much more of a mindset. There is a great use of metaphors, of word pictures. It’s in a singsong kind of voice. It tends to talk around realities rather than focus on them. It’s hard to explain, but something I thought would be a big problem turned out not to be.
PO: I understand that even the shooting of this film was controversial in Chile.
SPL: Yes, we had to shoot certain scenes in secret, and for a little while we worried about what everyone’s reaction would be, but after a time we just decided that we just have to go forward and hope for the best. You know, this event of the election is second in my country in importance only to the Revolution (in 1818). And there is still much pain about this time period, when Pinochet was President. People were very divided about him. In fact, in my own family, though I was only 12 at the time, I remembered that both my parents voted “Yes,” in support of Pinochet. Of course, my father was, and still is, a right-wing senator. But my grandfather was a socialist, on the far left side, so we have all sides represented just in my family, which is not unusual in Chile. But that time period is still like an open wound for us. Not only did Pinochet himself die a free man, but all the people who carried out his orders to torture others are still walking the streets, or buying lettuce next to you in the grocery store. And that’s a continuing tragedy for us.
PO: Though Pinochet gave up the Presidency as a result of the election, he remained commander-in-chief of the military, correct? In our country those two are inseparable.
SPL: Yes, and his control over the military made him immune to prosecution, and he was able to retain his bank accounts here, in the United States, and live as a wealthy man, and never set foot in a courtroom to answer for his crimes.
PO: What’s next for you?
SPL: I honestly don’t know. I’ve been so focused on this that I have to see it through to completion of the distribution, which is next in Europe. Then we’ll see.
PO: Best of luck to you, and nice to meet you.
SPL: Thank you, and nice to meet you, as well.
Ronald P. Salfen is the minister at St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church in Irving, Texas.