The decision to embrace the film's history-meets-fiction happened in pre-production, during the technical tests Larraín and his team conducted with the vintage cameras they had tracked down. "When we realized that our archival footage turned into fiction, and our own images turned into a documentary, we discovered that they could blend to such an extent that their final meaning was altered," the director said. "You realize that you have an incredibly powerful tool in your hands. And when you start to manage that, it is truly beautiful, because the film never leaves the realm of fiction. It is, as the characters mention, 'a copy of the copy of the copy,' something that folds over itself several times, to the point that you don't know what's real and what´s not. And in a world with so much information like the one we live in, I thought it was very poignant that the material we were working with was undistinguishable from the archival one."
One key ingredient in turning "NO" from a local story into one with international appeal is, of course, the presence of a star like García Bernal. Yet his contribution to the film goes beyond name recognition. His portrayal of a conflicted antihero —one who seems more eager to deliver the perfect marketing campaign than one concerned about democracy— is key in making the multiple layers of the film into a convincing blend.
"He put the movie on his shoulders and pushed it forward with impressive craft," said Larraín, who also praised García Bernal's attempt at the complicated Chilean accent without the need of a coach. "What he achieved has a lot to do with a certain mystery that he carries, and the way he approaches his work. It was a true privilege to have him on the film."
When it was announced that "NO" was among the five movies competing for the best "Foreign Language Film" Oscar —the first Chilean movie ever to do so— Larraín's initial public reaction was one of humility. He said that thinking in winning the statuette was "ridiculous," particularly considering that the great favorite was Michael Haneke's "Amour." But now he seems to have raised his stakes on what will happen on Sunday.
"That was only my first reaction, in the heat of the moment," he said, without losing his serious tone. "Even when there are many good movies in the competition, the Best Foreign Film is a category that has proven to be unpredictable. So anything could happen."