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Old Cats (#110 of 2)

New York Film Festival 2012: No

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New York Film Festival 2012: <em>No</em>
New York Film Festival 2012: <em>No</em>

Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín (Tony Manero and Post Mortem) gives us another take on his country’s dark dance with military dictatorship in No, an often lighthearted, sometimes inspirational, but ultimately unsettling feature. The film covers an extraordinary time in 1988 during which the Pinochet regime was shamed by international pressure into holding an election to produce a show of legitimacy. For 27 days leading up to the election, the state-controlled TV station aired 15 minutes a day of free programming for the government and 15 minutes against it. After 15 years of silencing the opposition with torture, death, or sheer terror, the junta was confident that their supporters, the Yes party, would turn out in allegiance, and that their opposition, the No party, would stay home, fearful of retaliation or (rightly) convinced that the vote would be fixed. But they didn’t account for the brave and canny image-shapers, straight out of the advertising world, who would steal the election back from the junta.

New York Film Festival 2010: Old Cats

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New York Film Festival 2010: <em>Old Cats</em>
New York Film Festival 2010: <em>Old Cats</em>

If nothing else, Old Cats, the latest drama from Chilean directors Pedro Peirano and Sebastián Silva (previously they collaborated on The Maid), is distinguished by one scene near its climax that manages to wring a surprising amount of heart-stopping suspense out of the simple act of an elderly woman trying to go down the stairs. As we see her struggling mightily whenever she moves her feet down a notch, each step becomes a life-or-death proposition, as thunderous in impact as the most overt act of physical violence.

The sequence works not necessarily because of any special cinematic innovation on the part of its directors, but because of how well Peirano and Silva have been able to involve us in the drama of its characters up to that point. We hold our breaths with each step that elderly woman takes because we care about what happens to her.