After overthrowing the government of President Salvadore Allende in a military coup, Augusto Pinochet was the Fascist dictator of Chile from 1973 through 1990. At the time of his death in 2006, there were hundreds of criminal charges against him, but he was never brought to justice. Yet Pinochet’s influence lives on, leading cowriter (with "The Club" and "Neruda's" Guillermo Calderón)/director Pablo Larraín to reframe him as a 250 year-old vampire in “El Conde.”
Laura's Review: B+
This comedic horror satire arrives, along with Icarus Films’ restoration of Patricio Guzman’s “The Battle of Chile,” as the 50th anniversary of Chile’s September 11th approaches and the world faces a new round of fascist authoritarianism. It is difficult not to see today’s parallels with a dictator who staged a coup and later hid documents in his basement, his wife and children squabbling over his stolen millions, the crimes continuing unabated after his official loss of power.
Lorrain begins his tale centuries earlier, his Count a soldier named Pinoche in Napoleon’s army feeding off prostitutes before disguising himself as a revolutionary only to lick the blood off of Marie Antoinette’s guillotine blade under cover of night. Vowing to stamp out all revolutions, the bloodsucker reappears in 20th century Chile with dreams of becoming a king, but after he is eventually cornered for his crimes against humanity and corruption, he fakes his own death by stopping his intake of the vital human fluid which kept him looking young. When we catch up with him, he’s living in a desolate Patagonian compound, attended to by his ruthless wife Lucía (Gloria Münchmeyer) and his Russian valet Fyodor (Alfredo Castro, “No,” “The Club”), who plops the human hearts the Count gathers on his nighttime jaunts into a blender for his delectation.
It is Pinochet’s (Jaime Vadell, "No," "The Club") forays back into Santiago, his carnage terrifying its citizens, that draw his children to his remote compound wondering why dear old dad is drawing attention to himself. As Jacinta (Antonia Zegers, "No," "Chile '76") lays claim to a country home, causing resentment among Manuel (Diego Muñóz, "No"), Luciana (Catalina Guerra), Mercedes (Amparo Noguera, "A Fantastic Woman") and Aníbal (Marcial Tagle, "No"), the count simply announces that everything was hidden by lawyers and tells them where to find the documents. Then he creeps them out by lusting after their mother (‘You turn me on, you old minx!’), even though we will later discover she’s having it off with Fyodor and the Count couldn’t care less. Then a nun, Carmencita (Paula Luchsinger, "Ema"), posing as a government accountant, arrives to ‘count your silver’ with exorcism a hidden agenda (she’ll also face Fyodor, whose promise of torture – ‘I’m going to put something cold in you’ – is not only chilling, but quite the double entendre).
Lorrain’s depiction of the Count flying off into the night, his ankle length cape billowing around him, recalls such vampiric cinematic history as the original Dracula and Nosferatu, Pinochet’s landing on a ship the most evocative. Later, Carmencita will take flight in a tour de force scene of the hilarious acrobatics of an amateur finding her mid-air balance, and, combined with cinematographer Edward Lachman’s ("Far From Heaven") luscious black and white photography and Juan Pablo Ávalo and Marisol García's jaunty waltz, seems like something out of a Roy Andersson film. Lachman’s work also highlights the desolation of the count’s Patagonia compound (production design by Rodrigo Bazaes), which, for some odd reason, reminded me of the “The Club’s” beach town house (preying priests and Pinochet?).
Lorrain and Calderón’s most pungent idea is in the choice of their narrator, a searing condemnation of the Western leaders who aided and abetted the dictator’s brutal rule (it’s not too difficult to figure out who will be revealed based on the voice and language). “El Conde” might just have something for about everyone outside of those who still admire its subject.
Robin's Review: C+
Netflix releases "El Conde" in select theaters on 9/6/23. It begins streaming on 9/15.