Movie Review: Pinochet as a vampire in surreal, frightening ‘El Conde’

by Chloe Baker
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Film Review: Pinochet Takes on a Vampiric Persona in the Surreal and Chilling ‘El Conde’

In Pablo Larraín’s audacious cinematic creation, “El Conde,” the notorious Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet, isn’t deceased; instead, he assumes the role of a 250-year-old vampire, residing in a state of semi-exile and yearning for his demise. This remarkable allegory delves into the haunting theme of history’s inclination to repeat itself, all captured in a breathtaking, otherworldly black-and-white visual palette.

The timing of this film’s release, both in theaters on Friday and on Netflix on September 15, couldn’t be more fitting, as it coincides with the 50th anniversary of the September 11, 1973 coup that brought Pinochet to power for nearly 17 years. Pinochet’s regime left a harrowing legacy, responsible for the torture, murder, and disappearance of 3,065 individuals, all in the name of combating communism. Yet, shockingly, for some in Chile, his legacy is not entirely vilified.

Larraín delivers a powerful cautionary message in “El Conde” about the persistence of malevolent ideologies. He underscores how these ideas endure, mutate, and infect societies even long after they are believed to be eradicated—a concept poetically likened to vampires lurking in a desolate, infernal exile, while greedy successors strive to reclaim their dominion and preserve their ill-gotten wealth.

At 47 years old, Larraín, known for his previous works such as “Spencer,” “Jackie,” and “No,” consistently identifies as a political filmmaker. In “El Conde,” which he co-wrote, he employs the language of satire and political farce to reveal the true nature of a dictator who never faced the justice he deserved, as articulated in his director’s statement.

Pinochet relinquished power in 1990 following a vote against military rule by Chileans, only to subsequently assume the roles of army commander-in-chief and later, a self-proclaimed lifelong senator, until his resignation in 2002. Remarkably, he passed away in 2006 without facing conviction in Chilean courts. The film interprets this absence of justice as condemning the nation to perpetual torment at the hands of the General and his disciples.

The role of Pinochet is portrayed masterfully by Jaime Vadell, an energetic 87-year-old, who embodies the character of an evil, aging superhuman grappling with the conflicting desires of hunting or starving himself of blood. He exudes weariness but clings to his pride, particularly recoiling at any suggestion of being a thief (murder, he found to be acceptable). Alfredo Castro plays his devoted butler, also afflicted by a hunger for blood, while Gloria Münchmeyer delivers a composed and sinister performance as his string-pulling wife, Lucía. She finds herself ensnared with their indolent, entitled offspring, as a young accountant/nun named Paula Luchsinger attempts to take inventory of the general’s assets and exorcise him. Luchsinger’s character, masking shrewdness beneath wide-eyed earnestness, is depicted and filmed with nods to Renée Jeanne Falconetti in “The Passion of Joan of Arc.”

“El Conde” is undoubtedly not a history lesson, yet it bombards the viewer with information at a rapid pace, reminiscent of the dialogue-rich “His Girl Friday.” While this might present a challenge in subtitles, the sharpness of the dialogue makes it unmissable. Additionally, an English-speaking narrator (whose identity remains concealed) adds a whimsically macabre, storybook-like quality to the narrative.

In this fantastical and allegorical nightmare, the pursuit of sense and logic should be abandoned, especially when one becomes engrossed in the splendid cinematography of Ed Lachman, known for his work on “Carol” and “The Virgin Suicides.” He reportedly employed a specially crafted camera, the Arri Alexa Monochrome, for the film.

“El Conde” may occasionally extend its gimmicky premise beyond its welcome, but it remains an enthralling, overwhelming, and grisly cinematic experience. It pairs seamlessly with last year’s exceptional historical legal thriller, “Argentina 1985.”

“El Conde,” a Netflix release in theaters on Friday and available for streaming on September 15, carries an R rating from the Motion Picture Association for its inclusion of graphic nudity, gore, rape, language, sexual content, and strong violence. The film boasts a runtime of 110 minutes and earns a solid three stars out of four.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Vampire-Allegory

What is “El Conde” about?

“El Conde” is a surreal film that portrays Augusto Pinochet, the Chilean dictator, as a 250-year-old vampire living in semi-exile. It explores the idea of history repeating itself and the enduring impact of malevolent ideologies.

Who directed “El Conde”?

The film was directed by Pablo Larraín, known for his political and thought-provoking films like “Spencer” and “Jackie.”

When and where can I watch “El Conde”?

“El Conde” is scheduled for release in theaters on a specific date and will be available for streaming on Netflix on another date. The exact dates may vary, so check your local theaters and Netflix for specific release times.

What themes does the film explore?

The film delves into themes such as the cyclical nature of history, the legacy of dictatorial regimes, and the persistence of evil ideas in society.

Who plays the role of Augusto Pinochet in the film?

The character of Augusto Pinochet is portrayed by Jaime Vadell, an 87-year-old actor known for his compelling performance in the movie.

Is “El Conde” a historical lesson?

While the film is not a historical documentary, it contains a fast-paced narrative with a rich dialogue that touches on historical events related to Pinochet’s regime.

What is the film’s rating and content warnings?

“El Conde” is rated R by the Motion Picture Association. It contains graphic nudity, gore, rape, strong language, sexual content, and violence.

How long is the film?

The runtime of “El Conde” is approximately 110 minutes.

Is this film recommended for a specific audience?

“El Conde” is recommended for viewers who enjoy thought-provoking and visually striking cinema, particularly those interested in political allegories and historical themes. However, due to its content warnings, it may not be suitable for all audiences.

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