American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
A simple vote: "Yes" or "No." It's 1988 and Chilean President Augusto Pinochet agrees to a referendum: if the nation votes "Yes," (rather, "Si") he remains in power. Ad-man René Saavedra (Gael Garcia Bernal) leads the team campaigning for "No," using the marketing strategies of the American Cola Wars. To complicate matters, his boss Lucho Guzmán (Alfredo Castro) heads the "Yes" team.
Here are the rules: Each night, each side receives 15 minutes of airtime on national television to present its case. The "Yes" gang depicts Pinochet's leadership as an economic success, modernizing the country, introducing microwave ovens in the home -- all now at risk of socialist takeover if the communists of the "No" campaign succeed.
The "No" movement assumes that the election is fixed in the dictator's favor. Many of the activists themselves have suffered under Pinochet's regime. Assuming they will lose, they focus on raising awareness of the government's atrocities, overloading its audience with images of tanks, bombings and abused political prisoners. The problem, they discover, is that this negative approach generates fear, which contributes to a sense of powerlessness, which leads to voter abstention. Which further helps Pinochet.
So, Saavedra pushes for an operation focused on happiness. Borrowing images from American pop culture (including mimes, which seemed to proliferate in commercials back then), he presents his plan to speak of sunlight and hope. Imagine convincing a room full of hardened lifelong protestors to give up their black and white radical rhetoric, and embrace a campaign of Europeans dancing among rainbows, horses and picnics.