In Netflix’s must watch ‘El Conde,’ Pablo Larraín intertwines historical drama with gothic horror and eerie undertones. He creates a haunting portrait of a man whose legacy is shrouded in mystery and darkness. The film is a wickedly dark and wildly creative exploration of Chile’s recent history through a supernatural lens.
The film reimagines Augusto Pinochet as a centuries-old vampire, and the result is both a biting satire of political tyranny and a gripping tale. Jaime Vadell gives an unnerving and unforgettable performance as the monstrous Pinochet, while the supporting cast, including Gloria Münchmeyer and Alfredo Castro, bring depth, great comedic timing and organic ensemble work for the table.
Ed Lachman’s cinematography is a standout – I firmly believe he is the greatest DP that has happened to black-and-white cinema since Sven Nykvist. He paints a nostalgic, elegant and richly detailed picture of the fascist vampire and his entourage. The stark contrast heightens the sense of foreboding, and the close-ups in the opening sequence immediately draw viewers into the story. As we are traveling to time, getting closer to today, first sepia then colors overcome the screen.
The film blurs the lines between history and fiction, juxtaposing the bloody political landscape with a supernatural interpretation of Pinochet’s story and decaying late years. The result is a thought-provoking exploration of power, youth, death, corruption, and the murky legacy of a dictator. Comic reliefs are consistently provided, think of Pinochet’s meal prep in the basement, him faking his own death, or his children’s hilarious (and occasionally painfully realistic) conversations about their inheritance.
Classical music is a huge part of the movie. A movie that is a real virtuoso opera concert. Huge orchestra, much intensity, bold compositing. The beautiful production design adds greatly to the establishing of the historical context.
“El Conde ” is clever and funny, it dares to poke fun at the darkest aspects of Chile’s history as Pablo Larraín is needless to say, completely „legitimized” to do so. The Chilien auteur is well-known for character driven movies such as „Jackie” and „Spencer ” where he told stories about the intricate inner lives of his famous subjects. Here, he widens his horizon but his forte remains in constructing complex characters, relationships and intense scenes.
Paula Luchsinger who plays Charmencita the nun / accountant, with her resemblance to Joan of Arc, is an intriguing addition to the story. It is a brilliant move to introduce this young, innocent character into the dark, corrupt world of the count, creating a perfect juxtaposition between purity and sin. She is on a mission out on the Pinochet farm, she is to conduct an investigation into their newly uncovered bank documents. This power struggle between good and evil, with both fully aware of their respective natures, is the driving force of the second half of the film. The sexual tension between the two swiftly grows into being a key element, not unlike in other gothic tales and vampire stories. Also, most of us can relate to how it is to be attracted to a toxic person who you want to „get the devil out of”.
The production design is hauntingly beautiful – wow to that chandelier – adding to the ghostly atmosphere. The narration as the primary source of voice in the first half is an interesting choice, lending a sense of myth and fable to the story. Our grandmother is telling us a (very dark) bedtime story. Alert: it is not entirely suitable for sweet dreams.
The scene with the flying Carmencita performing contemporary ballet is an absolute showstopper – it is like a surreal dream sequence that captures the film’s transcendental nature. Carl Theodor Dreyer’s influence is definitely apparent in Larrain’s direction. And let’s not forget „the mother of all plot twists” – Pinochet’s mother must intervene and without spoiling anything, I must say she is iron-willed.
All in all, sour humor, a great script and brave genre mix characterize „El Conde”. It is refreshing to see filmmakers take risks, go hyper inventive and push boundaries, and Larraín certainly does just that. This is punk-rock filmmaking at its finest!
„El Conde” is now available on Netflix.
~ by Dora Endre ~