Movie Review: El Conde
In Netflix’s surprisingly layered dark comedy, the dictator Augusto Pinochet is a 250-year-old vampire. PM Film Critic Sean Collier says it’s unusual, but worth a watch.
There’s an escalation in director Pablo Larraín’s films on historical figures: From speculative, to imaginative, to fantastical.
In “Jackie,” he speculated on the mind and turmoil of Jacqueline Kennedy. In “Spencer,” Princess Diana’s Christmas holiday became a tumultuous ghost story. Now, in “El Conde,” the implications become literal: Here, Augusto Pinochet (Jaime Vadell) is an actual vampire, eating the hearts of the Chilean people.
The dictator is not at the height of his powers in the film; in fact, he’s been officially dead for years. “El Conde,” written by Larraín with Guillermo Calderón, finds Pinochet in exile, hiding from the world in a remote part of the nation he once controlled. He’s considering dying — for real, this time — and his heirs have turned up to search for money. Meanwhile, an undercover nun (Paula Luchsinger) is masquerading as an accountant in an attempt to defeat evil.
It could be rendered as a pulpy western, but in the hands of a thoughtful filmmaker, it’s instead something between a dark comedy and a Shakespearean struggle (even if there’s more of “Succession” than “King Lear” in the tone). The twists and turns are worthy of a soap, but the careful pacing and gorgeous cinematography — a sequence depicting a new vampire learning to fly is indelible — tell the audience that there’s more here than blood and backstabbing.
Luchsinger is radiant, nearly stealing the show, and Vadell is compelling. A dry narrator handles most of the script; it’s handled much more subtly than many voice-over parts and leads to a fitting and funny revelation late in the film.
“El Conde” may struggle to find an audience; it’s too wry for many horror fans and too brutal for some of the arthouse crowd. Those who sit down with it, though, will find a rarity: A legitimately unique film.
My Rating: 8/10
“El Conde” is now streaming on Netflix.