Sony Classics says yes to 'No' at Cannes
In the mid-Cannes checkup piece I posted yesterday, I wrote that the festival sidebars (Un Certain Regard, Directors' Fortnight and Critics' Week, plus a handful of stray special selections) haven't produced much in the way of a word-of-mouth sensation. The clear exception I noted was Chilean director Pablo Larrain's "No" -- my own favourite film of the festival thus far -- which I saw on the third day of the festival and was far from alone in admiring. (When even self-confessed sidebar sceptic Jeff Wells has checked it out and is singing its praises, you know word has officially got round.)
So I'm thrilled to hear that the positive buzz for "No" has paid off handsomely in the distribution racket, as the US rights to the film have been picked up by arthouse major Sony Pictures Classics, whose record of shepherding foreign-language fare Stateside currently stands second to none. (For starters, they've been behind five of the last six winners of the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.) That's a major profile boost for Larrain, whose last two films, "Tony Manero" and "Post Mortem" (with which "No" forms a thematically-linked trilogy), were distributed in the US by the far lower-profile outfit Kino Lorber. ("Post Mortem" hit theaters only last month on a highly limited release.)
In my review of "No" last week, I noted that the film, a sly, moving study of the ad men behind rival political campaigns in the crucial 1988 referendum that ended Pinochet's dictatorship in Chile, was a more accessible proposition than either of Larrain's previous jet-black comedies, and not just because it features a star name in leading man Gael Garcia Bernal. (Bernal, incidentally, does his best work in years here.) As a celebration of democratic victory, "No" is far the more rousing and optimistic work, though it's still colored by Larrain's smart, offbeat humor -- so good on Sony for taking a chance on a work that still isn't the easiest of arthouse sells.
Meanwhile, if Chile submit the film as their Academy Award entry this year -- and they'd be foolish not to -- its blend of the personal and political is something that could well appeal to more adventurous voters in the foreign-language branch, particularly with Sony's promotional powers on its side.
For my part, I'm just glad to see Larrain getting the platform he deserves, particularly after the Cannes selectors' baffling exclusion of the film from either the Competition or Un Certain Regard lineup. After "Post Mortem" played in Competition at Venice two years ago, we had reason to think he'd earned that status -- so the relative demotion of his follow-up to the Directors' Fortnight provoked fears that the film was somehow a disappointment. (Not that I let that stop me from placing it among my five most anticipated films of the festival. I'm a firm fan of both "Manero" and "Mortem," having placed the latter among my top 10 films of 2010.)
As it turns out, "No" looks certain to be the most well-received and widely-seen film of Larrain's career to date -- a happy outcome for all concerned, and a necessary reminder to Competition-fixated media that it's worth venturing to the other end of the Croisette occasionally.