In 1988, Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet came under international pressure to legitimise his 15-year regime. A plebiscite was called so the public could vote “yes” or “no” to another eight years of having him in charge. In the Oscar-nominated NO, we find out how Chile’s own Mad Men went about bringing down a dictator.

The assumption was Pinochet would win the vote: he had his supporters and apathy would do the rest. But the 1980s was when campaigning became marketing. Reagan and Thatcher hit the stadiums and pulled out the celebs: you weren’t just voting for deregulation and privatisation – you were voting for Steve Davies.

In Chile, the “no” campaigners called on PR bods more used to flogging cola drinks. The 15-minute TV spots they came up with are repeated in here and as radical, colloquial and hopeful as ever. As one of the ad men puts it: “We have a product that’s different from the competition, that invites you to be young, that invites you to be brave.” Idealism and reality are not enough.

It’s nice to think we could be stirred to a cause, but human beings don’t work like that. People are suffering right now, but are any of us doing anything about it? No, we’re reading film reviews and pretending to work. We wring a fist, shake our heads and join a Facebook group instead.

It’s not until Bob Geldof and Midge Ure stick Simple Minds on stage that we put our hands in our pockets. We want to feel happy and, for better or worse, marketing can do that. Idealism, on the other hand, fills us with despair.

As Don Draper’ll tell you, marketing’s all about memory. They used to say the past existed in black and white. Nowadays, it’s probably in Super 8, but in NO, director Pablo Larraín digs out a couple of old U-matic cameras to back bring the 1980s in all their fuzzy, RGB video glory.

A film, you hope, will last for generations and, if it does, most people who see it won’t remember 1988. You won’t reach them by asking how they felt when they heard about the Lockerbie bombing or the Clapham Junction rail crash or that the BBC had cancelled Hi-de-Hi! You need to show them the past as they’ve seen it before

Hell, I was born in ’88: the late 80s exist for me in repeats of Dallas, Brookside and Star Trek: The Next Generation. NO’s look isn’t a gimmick: like The Artist, it gets us into an era through the fiction, not the fact. That the film is also about the power of television makes it all the more fitting.

Hopefully, we can really piss off Michael Gove and get NO on some Media Studies syllabuses. You can blame whatever you like on the media but it’s a tool. Sometimes it’s used to mislead us: here we see it used at its best. Video didn’t just kill the radio star: it freed a nation. Not that the Buggles cared. The bastards.

NO is available to own from 17 June 2013