“El Conde” is an unusual satirical black-and-white film directed by Pablo Larraín, who co-wrote the script with Guillermo Calderón. It re-imagines the notorious Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet Ugarte as an ancient vampire who fakes his own death multiple times to live for over 250 years.
In the film, Augusto Pinochet (Jaime Vadell) is born in the 1700s, a French royalist who witnesses the guillotining of Marie Antoinette first-hand and pretends to be a revolutionary to save his own life. As a vampire, Pinochet survives through four different centuries, witnessing numerous revolutions, endless murders, before becoming a Chilean dictator through leading a military coup. Following this brief historical overview, “El Conde” then delves into the ancient vampire’s resolution to die, as various obstacles complicate his plan to retire from the world. While his human children gather around him like vultures to inherit his wealth; the church deploys an exorcist-nun in the guise of an accountant to deal with Pinochet.
The first 35 minutes are witty, comedic, bloody, and absolutely riveting. For example, there’s this wicked scene of Pinochet licking Marie Antoinette’s blood off the guillotine once nobody is around the scene. But as more and more Chilean political references make their way into the story, “El Conde” becomes a challenging watch for international viewers who know little about the real life Augusto. But the metaphorical implications of portraying a dictator a vampire is undoubtedly clever – a literal beast who bleeds his own people dry in order to thrive. Gloria Münchmeyer, plays Pinochet’s wife Lucia, who is equally power-hungry and resents him for never turning her into a vampire, leaving her to endure the vagaries of human life. Paula Luchsinger as the nun Carmencita was a peculiar character, whose story potential wasn’t fully exploited.
The black-and-white cinematography adds a stunning nostalgic essence to the film and brilliantly complement the historical flashbacks of Pinochet’s life brilliantly. However, the color palette makes “El Conde” monotonous in the second-half, as the events look like they are set in the 1920s, even though bulk of the plot unfolds in the 2000s. And the script is too verbose, either the characters are always talking, or the narrator is saying something or the other. So viewers have to constantly pay attention to the endless dialogues/narration and it becomes a slightly taxing experience.
My biggest peeve with the film was the arbitrary aging of Pinochet. If he is an immortal creature, why does he age only during his life in Chile? The writers do answer this question towards the climax, albeit indirectly, but until then, you keep wondering “why?”.
While the actors didn’t leave a lasting impact, it’s the script, cinematography, and musical score that kept me intrigued until the end. “El Conde” starts off as a tale of a vampire ready to call it quits, but the climax is completely bizarre, surprising, and also comedic in its own strange way. A new character makes a dramatic entry in the end, completely changing the narrative and closing Augusto Pinochet’s chapter in an interesting way.
Rating: 6 on 10. You can stream the film on Netflix.
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