El Conde

El Conde
El Conde
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Pablo Larraín is famous for his evocative, impressionist biopics about some of the most important figures in twentieth-century history — as well as for other films that are much stranger and a little more playful with reality. His tenth film, El Conde, is indeed a kind of biography of a significant person from life but it draws less on his profiles of Jackie Kennedy (Jackie), Princess Diana (Spencer) or Pablo Neruda (Neruda) and more on his weirder, more radical pieces like Tony Manero (2008) and Ema’s neon-lit acid trip in 2019.

What if the fascist dictator Augusto Pinochet were to be an immortal vampire who feeds on humans’ blood like Bram Stoker’s? And then, what if he faked his death in 2006 so that he could retire quietly with just a wife and millions illegally made?

In this version, Pinochet lived long before he ruled Chile ruthlessly and after. He was essentially a bitter aristocrat from France during its revolution whose chief concern was maintaining the status quo by swallowing up innocent lives especially those of young maidens. Geopolitically speaking, Chile just happened to be where it was good for him to enslave.

It is only Chileans who can determine whether this is an appropriate or tasteful way to satirize a leader responsible for executing over 3,000 political opponents – the “disappeared” ones – and interning or torturing even greater numbers. Genre movies absolutely become sustainable frameworks within which a difficult past may be analyzed; when discussing Pinochet’s legacy previously in Post Mortem (2010) and No (2012), Larraín listed all his crimes without reservation even though they mostly appear as gentle accusations uttered by Paula Luchsinger disguised as an undercover nun working at her accounting job hoping Christ would change Pinochet’s heart. The earlier French persona crimes of Pinochet, on the other hand, are depicted in a way that is arguably gratuitous as well as quite shocking, with a distinctly gendered slant.

But there is something about this kind of satire which does not feel biting enough to pin down such an utterly unforgivable fascist – perhaps, by casting him as caricaturesque or fanciful rather than real villains, Larraín somewhat blunts his own indictment of the dictator. The tone for such a dark story feels strangely light and tends towards being just quirky.

However, whatever anyone says about its political correctness or historical parodying, this film definitely functions like an old-school horror flick in an arthouse guise. As shot by veteran cinematographer Edward Lachman, Larraín has fashioned one of the most beautiful and visually dazzling takes on vampires ever seen in cinema: every single black-and-white frame thickly contrasted looks stunningly amazing. Whenever he would take off into the night to find fresh victims again it was probably the most hauntingly elegant sight in any movie the handsome Larrain has made; one sequence where a rookie vampire who was recently bitten balletically goes airborne for her first time is breathtaking.

Besides, a twist in which an unknown narrator enters the picture at the third-act reveal of an unexpected narrator who is not seen but heard will definitely leave British viewers laughing out loud. And to think that it makes that audacious betrayal at the end which only speaks of El Conde’s main suspense: can it take its villains seriously or not?

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