Review: El Conde (The Count) – Pinochet Is a Vampire Sucking Chile Dry

El Conde

The dictatorships installed in South America with the aid from the United States Operation Condor are among the most nefarious chapters of the 20th Century history given the nature of their oppression, brutality and the lingering effects they have on the countries for generations. Still, in a satire, accomplished Chilean director Pablo Larraín approaches the subject with humour but not diluting the criticism in his last entry El Conde (The Count, 2023) available on Netflix.

In this narrative, Chilean military dictator General Augusto Pinochet (Jaime Vadell) is a 250 years-old vampire who was born in France and after seeing the fall of his beloved French monarchy at the hands of Napoleon Bonaparte decides to move to South America and become the “king” of an impoverished Chile after a coup d’état that culminates with the death of President Salvador Allende, an historical fact that happened exactly 50 years ago.

By opting for Black and White photography, cinematographers Edward Lachmann and Larraín bring a tribute to classic horror movies, and it allows ‘El Conde’ to have some graphic scenes that are not there for gratuitous violence but to represent the ruthlessness and lengths the real Pinochet would delve to impose his will. While his fictional version mauls and bites, the real-life figure would order his opposers to be thrown from flying helicopters to the sea, which is currently being celebrated by far-right movements around the globe.

The allegory of a dictator as a vampire demonstrates how a corrupted regimen not only sucks dry the resources of a country and its people to its benefit but also how it perverts morals under the lie of being a way to revert back to more conservative values when in fact they only apply to those out of the elite bubble that still indulges themselves in many vices be the dictatorship of right or left-wing leanings.

The acting of Vadell shows a Pinochet who avoided death but is a failing and pathetic figure, much different from the way he was portrayed by the government, while also avoiding the clichés of lord vampires as suave and terrifying. Count Pinochet not only has a penchant for slaughtering to keep his power but also is avid for money embezzlement.

The children of Pinochet and his wife represent how those in the upper echelons can become so indulged in luxury to the point that they stop contributing to their country and behave as if their privilege is just birthright. The Catholic church is powerful in the region; however, it isn’t spared as while some sectors heavily opposed the dictatorships others aligned or turned a blind eye to the abuses of power.

The Russian butler, Fyodor played by Alfredo Castro, a longtime collaborator of Larraín, exemplifies the lengths that those born outside the top caste can go to ensure they are not treated as “little people” in these systems while earning to climb further in the ladder. The rest of the cast execute their roles with chemistry and the nun Carmencita (Paula Luchsinger) serves as the point of view character.

One curious point is that although the majority of the movie is spoken in the Spanish language, there is an English-speaking narrator and considering the Chile-Britain relation it makes sense as not only the United Kingdom is perceived as a colonizing power but the elite in the Americas in many times are a colonized and kitsch answer to those found in the North-Hemisphere, hence the writing by Larraín and Guillermo Calderón gives a scope on how we, South Americans, are perceived by them. The way the narrator describes the differences between the taste of British blood to the South American counterpart in the palate of the vampire Pinochet as if comparing wines goes straight to the point.

It’s not the first time that Larraín approaches the dictatorship that ravaged his country as he showed part of it with the picture ‘No’ (2012) starring Gael García Bernal focusing on the referendum that brought democracy to the country. Still, with ‘El Conde’, Larraín does a critique of Chile’s story with humour in a farce that touches on the political past and present of the country that has gone recently through a major economic crisis that accentuated the social inequality.

To mainstream audiences, Larraín is known for the intimate portrayals in Spencer (2020) and Jackie (2016), biopics of Lady Diana and Jackeline Kennedy, respectively. Which makes this movie an interesting showcase of his comedic skills. A lesser auteur wouldn’t be able to pull El Conde without failing to the traps of clichés or breaking the fourth wall with speeches to remind us how bad those times were and that there are those still profiting from them, Larraín respects the public’s intellect and Chile’s history.

Also Read: Review: Oppenheimer

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Posted by
Gabriel Leão

Gabriel Leão (He/Him) works as a journalist and is based in São Paulo, Brazil. He has written for outlets in Brazil, the UK, Canada and the USA such as Vice, Ozy Media, Remezcla, Al Jazeera, Women’s Media Center, Clash Music, Dicebreaker, Yahoo! Brasil, Scarleteen, Anime Herald, Anime Feminist and Brazil’s ESPN Magazine. He also holds a Master’s degree in Communications and a post-grad degree in Foreign Relations.