Review: El Conde
El Conde – 77%
Reviewer Flickchart ranking: 1,219 / 5,200
Netflix’s latest sees Pablo Larraín, the Chilean director of Jackie (2016), go back to his roots with the black-as-night satire El Conde. Larrin landed on the international scene in 2012 with the Gael García Bernal vehicle No. That film dealt with a 1988 marketing campaign to vote against extending the reign of despotic ruler Augusto Pinochet. Now, El Conde imagines an elderly Pinochet as a decrepit, moribund vampire.
250-year-old Pinochet (Jaime Vadell) has faked his death, making the public believe the ruthless authoritarian has died. Instead, the brutal former leader retreats to a barren country outpost where he is joined by his four adult children, wife, and faithful servant. With spectacular black and white photography (shot by cinematographer Edward Lachman), we see the count plunge his knife into the neck of his victims, carve open their chests, remove their hearts, and use kitchen blenders to prepare blood smoothies. It’s a unique twist on the vampire mythos, as the violence in El Conde is often swift and graphic, embodying the careless waste of human life that defined Augusto Pinochet.
The Catholic Church sends an undercover, mathematically-gifted young nun (Paula Luchsinger) to discover all of the accounts and assets belonging to the Pinochet family that were stashed around the globe. The nun acts as a means for Larrain to bring to light the murderous horrors of Pinochet’s regime and the way he and his family fleeced their country of its wealth.
Larrain’s farce has a strong, vibrant opening 45 minutes. It is nearly impossible for the audience to guess where El Conde is taking them. It is gripping, exhilarating, and at times disturbing cinema. However, as the film settles into a stylized deposition of the family and internal betrayals of the vampires themselves, the creative momentum grinds to a halt and is never regained. Pablo Larraín’s latest work is a wholly worthwhile experience even if it never grasps the greatness it reaches toward.