Directed by: Pablo Larraín
Premise: Set in the present day, former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet (Jaime Vadell) is actually a vampire who faked his death and now lives in a rural home. Pinochet’s family assembles to assess his estate with the help of an accountant (Paula Luchsinger)
What Works: El Conde is an unusual mix of horror, family drama, and political satire. At least since Dracula, the vampire has been associated with aristocracy and El Conde expands that idea. Augusto Pinochet is revealed to be a centuries old vampire with his roots in revolution-era France and who later rose to power in Chile after deposing President Salvador Allende. It’s a bold premise and the moviemakers use the vampire story to comment on the persistence of totalitarianism. El Conde is shot in black and white and the imagery is striking. The grey image conceals some of the gore but it also gives the movie a gothic quality and the black and white imagery suits the barren landscape of the Pinochet estate. El Conde has a lot of narration especially in the beginning. Voiceover is usually weak storytelling but the narration is droll and even poetic and it sets up a character who enters the story later. That surprise appearance is darkly funny but also reinforces the political point.
What Doesn’t: El Conde is intended to be a cloak and dagger drama. The bulk of the story takes place years after Pinochet has left power and the former dictator considers ending his life; Pinochet’s wife and adult children jockey for control of the estate. This element is not that interesting. There isn’t much drama, the children aren’t well characterized, and their story doesn’t come to much of a climax. An accountant who is brought in to assist the assessment of the estate is revealed to be a vampire slaying nun. This part of the story doesn’t lead anywhere interesting and her story ends anticlimactically. That might be the point but it’s unsatisfying drama.
Disc extras: Available on Netflix.
Bottom Line: El Conde has an interesting concept and parts of it are horrific and funny. It’s an ambitious film with a provocative political edge but the various parts of El Conde don’t quite come together.
Episode: #970 (October 22, 2023)