Pablo Larraín, the director behind the American biopics Jackie and Spencer, is back in his native Chile to poke at the horrendous dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. The infamous man ruled ruthlessly from 1973 to 1989. As seen in his Oscar-nominated docudrama No, Larraín is not afraid of looking back into his country’s troubled past. Even today in Chile, Pinochet is beloved on the political right – a savior from a feared communist takeover. To the left, Pinochet is a devil thanks to his use of imprisonment, torture, and execution of any subversives. Despite using allegory throughout El Conde, it is the use of truths about Pinochet that Larraín creates a unique story.
As shown at the beginning through an English-speaking narrator, the Pinochet we know is 250 years old and originally from France. He is a vampire who has escaped the guillotines of the French Revolution and made his way to Chile, becoming a General in the military and then leading the coup on September 11, 1973, to overthrow the government. As “The Count,” Pinochet ruled with an iron fist until he gave way for democracy to return. He avoided legal repercussions until his death in 2006. But Pinochet is not dead, instead faking his death to live in exile.
In a desolate home, courtesy of Edward Lachman‘s gorgeous black-and-white cinematography, Pinochet (Jaime Vadell) now wants to die to escape family troubles. His wife, Lucia, (Gloria Münchmeyer), and children are fighting over who gets all the money he has stolen. A young, beautiful nun (Paula Luchsinger) has the double duty of being an accountant for the family’s assets and as an exorcist to rid the world of Pinochet the vampire. Pinochet has his devoted butler (Alfredo Castro), himself a vampire, and then a major twist with the narrator (who will sound recognizable to many) throwing everything into further disarray with a surprise reveal.
While El Conde lacks in surprise and feels too obvious, the visuals of the dictator flying around his hunting ground send a chill down your spine. It forces the audience to consider his horrendous deeds when he was running the country. Vadell is the perfect visual ghoul of Pinochet. He goes to the Presidential Palace he firebombed to take power. Luchsinger is the purity symbol of a modern Chile post-dictatorship with the look of Joan of Arc. Visually similar to Renée Falconetti’s portrayal, she stands face-to-face with the living Satan and must stave off Pincohet’s flirtations. The farce of a corrupt family and a wife with her own intentions cannot carry weight in the film.
Despite weaknesses in the second act, the zingers reflect Pinochet’s power and the ironies of his vilified figure. Larraín achieves what he is aiming for as he pokes the vampire. El Condor is not as serious as another Pinochet-era film by Larraín, Post Mortem, but the blood equalizes what was lost at that time. It is not a history lesson, but it says enough about the man, his family, and his painful legacy that endures. With a good dose of satire, Larraín chops up the boogeyman of his homeland.
Brian’s Grade: B
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