The Movie Waffler New Release Review - EL CONDE | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - EL CONDE

El Conde review
Chilean dictator Pinochet is reimagined as a centuries old vampire.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Pablo Larraín

Starring: Jaime Vadell, Gloria Münchmeyer, Alfredo Castro, Paula Luchsinger, Catalina Guerra, Marcial Tagle, Amparo Noguera, Diego Muñoz, Antonia Zegers

El Conde poster

Dictators and unpopular political leaders have often been likened to parasites sucking the blood from the veins of whatever nation they happen to find themselves at the reins of. With El Conde ("The Count"), Chilean director Pablo Larraín takes this metaphor to its literal conclusion, reimagining his country's infamous dictator, General Augusto Pinochet, as a vampire.

In Larraín's version, Pinochet is born in France 250 years ago and feeds off prostitutes before fleeing at the outbreak of the revolution, taking Marie Antoinette's guillotined head as a souvenir. After travelling around Europe he ends up in 21st century Chile (played by Jaime Vadell), and the rest is history.

El Conde review

The real Pinochet died in 2006, but Larraín imagines that he fakes his demise and carries on living on a remote island with his wife Lucia (Gloria Münchmeyer) and Renfield-esque servant Fyodor (Alfredo Castro), hiding out like the disgrace priests of Larraín's The Club. When he gets thirsty, Pinochet takes nocturnal trips to the Santiago, where he flies gracefully like Superman through the skyscrapers, seeking out victims.

Learning that their father has finally decided to die, Pinochet's five children head to the island hoping to get the most from his will. To arrange the details, a nun/accountant, Carmen (Paula Luchsinger), is brought to the island, but she may have ulterior motives.

Larraín's previous biopics of Jackie Onassis, Diana Spencer and Pablo Neruda have been far from hagiographies, but the director really relishes driving a stake into his country's most notorious leader here. Pinochet is reduced to a pathetic figure, one who insists he had his country's best interests at heart while fondly reminiscing of his days torturing and executing anyone who happened to disagree with him. Larraín's takedown of Pinochet might seem like plucking at low-hanging fruit, but he counters his own opinion by having the film narrated by one of Pinochet's most infamous allies, Margaret Thatcher (Stella Gonet), who speaks in glowing terms of her fellow vampire.

El Conde review

While Larraín certainly has plenty of scorn for Pinochet, he doesn't appear to have much to say about the man. We're given no real insight into what motivated his rise to power, or how he achieved it. We're left in no doubt that a conventional biopic of the dictator would be more dramatic than this collection of vampire clichés and Wikipedia notes.

Larraín adopts the stance that his audience has never seen a vampire movie before, and so we're fed the usual litany of rules and details of how such creatures conduct themselves. There are no jokes here that you won't have seen in decades old comedies like Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein, Carry on Screaming or Love at First Bite, and Larraín and co-writer Guillermo Calderón run out of comic material far too early to sustain the film's near two hour run time.

El Conde review

Cracks really begin to appear with the arrival of Carmen, whose interrogations of Pinochet and his family are used as a lazy way of delivering a lecture on the history of the man and his brood. It's also unclear what Carmen represents. She's a devout nun, but wasn't Pinochet propped up, as so many of his ilk have been, by the church? Why then would she have it in for him? The film draws heavily on Bram Stoker's Dracula but can't decide if Carmen is Harker or Van Helsing.

El Conde is the first misstep in Larraín's prolific career, but a movie made by a filmmaker of his talent is always going to have at least one redeeming feature. Here it's the gorgeous vespertine cinematography of Edward Lachman, who utilises the same lenses employed by Gregg Toland in his collaborations with Orson Welles. If only Larraín's deconstruction of Pinochet was a fraction as engaging as Welles' thinly disguised takedown of William Randolph Hearst. El Conde is ultimately little more than an arthouse cousin of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

El Conde
 is on Netflix from September 15th.

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