In Pablo Larraín’s latest creation, “El Conde” (The Count), the Chilean director takes us on a macabre journey into an alternate history where the notorious dictator, General Pinochet, is reimagined as a 250-year-old vampire. In this dark and gothic tale, Pinochet, going by the alias El Conde, has feigned his own death and now resides in the decaying grandeur of his Patagonian hideaway, yearning for an end to his immortal existence. However, his end-of-life ennui is disrupted by his money-hungry family, a less-than-loyal servant, and an attractive accountant-nun.
While each character offers entertaining moments, none quite succeeds in driving home Larraín’s enigmatic political commentary. Instead, it is the archetypal and instantly recognizable narration that skillfully skewers crony capitalism, all while Larraín’s film showcases a taste for sardonic humor as refined as the count’s thirst for blood.
In Larraín’s dark comedy, “El Conde,” a parallel universe is unveiled, where the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet still exists, albeit with a supernatural twist – he’s a vampire. Augusto Pinochet’s regime, which spanned from 1973 to 1990 after he led a coup d’état that ousted Socialist President Salvador Allende, was marked by the torture, execution, and disappearance of over 3,000 people. “El Conde” presents a bizarre and outrageous dark comedy in which the 250-year-old Pinochet now hungers for his own demise as a bloodthirsty vampire.
The story begins with a narrative that paints a vivid picture of Augusto Pinochet, portrayed by Jaime Vadell. Having staged his own death, Pinochet resides on the outskirts of Santiago with his wife, Lucía (Gloria Münchmeyer), and servant, Fyodor (Alfredo Castro), in a dilapidated mansion laden with portraits, war memorabilia, and books dating back to his brutal regime. Augusto enlists the help of his servant, Fyodor, who preserves human hearts in the refrigerator in an underground chamber. Unlike Fyodor, who has been transformed into a vampire, Augusto refuses to grant Lucía’s repeated requests to make her like him. Instead, Pinochet seeks to relinquish his immortal existence by refraining from drinking blood.
When his five middle-aged mortal children learn of his change of heart regarding their inheritance, they converge upon the crumbling mansion, growing impatient and determined to locate the hidden secret bank accounts. One of the siblings recruits Carmencita (Paula Luchsinger), a nun skilled in accounting and exorcisms, to assist in uncovering the truth behind Pinochet’s regime while attempting to exorcise the malevolent vampire and save the Church from financial ruin.
Larraín employs endless, riotous gags to satirize Pinochet’s parallel universe. The dictator is portrayed as a real-life villain, with his heinous actions during his 250 years of existence never forgotten. From escaping as an anti-revolutionary soldier during King Louis XVI’s reign to ultimately settling in Chile and seizing control of the country through a coup, his immortality is a haunting specter. He resorts to every nefarious scheme imaginable to maintain his eternal life, even simulating his own death and attending his own funeral. Larraín presents Pinochet not only as a dictator but also as an unrepentant vampire who shows no remorse for the atrocities he committed. This theme pervades the film, highlighting Pinochet’s bewilderment at why he isn’t celebrated like other presidents. It serves as a chilling reminder that, even in the real world, politicians can be likened to blood-sucking vampires.
“El Conde” is shot in a monochromatic palette, drawing inspiration from gothic aesthetics. The film features striking imagery, including sweeping shots of the dilapidated mansion adorned with Pinochet’s artifacts and memorabilia, such as the severed head of Marie Antoinette and the guillotine that ended her life. Other standout scenes depict Pinochet soaring through the air in his military cape, ready to feast on his victims, along with numerous visually creative and mesmerizing compositions.
Ultimately, “El Conde” remains a stylish and morally ambiguous film. It revels in an unending series of gags centered around Pinochet’s vampiric existence and his desperate desire for its termination. Larraín may have approached this film as a challenge: can it metaphorically drive a stake through the heart of both the bloodthirsty dictator and the metaphorical vampire of political history? In offering a modern and humorous perspective on Chile’s dark and politically charged past, Larraín invites audiences to contemplate these complex themes with both amusement and reflection.