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Euronews Culture Film of the Week: “El Conde”

Today on Netflix, “El Conde”, by Pablo Larraín, premiered in Venice, a unique and cinematic political farce. It’s just a shame that most people can’t see it on the big screen…

“This whole farce started centuries ago – in France, of course. »


Our narrator Margaret Thatcher tells us, as she guides us through this darkly comic political horror from Pablo Larraín (Jackie, Spencer). The Chilean director imagines the fascist dictator, General Augusto Pinochet (Jaime Vadell), as a living vampire hiding in a ruined mansion. Contrary to reality, he did not die with impunity in 2006; he has survived so far by faking his own death and sucking the blood of his victims – with a propensity for heart tremors and largely staying away from workers’ blood, which has a “pungent” taste.

However, after 250 years of life, from the French Revolution to modern-day Chile, Pinochet is going through a kind of existential crisis, which leads him to stop drinking blood. He finally decided to die.

For good this time.

“Why would I want to continue living in a country that hates me? he said, questioning the act of living in a world that remembers him as a thief.

His inheritance-hungry children in an inheritance kick don’t help much either.

However, Pinochet’s final plans may not be so simple, as he suspects that someone is trying to keep him alive. That, and he eventually finds a new lease of life through an unexpected relationship with Carmencita (Paula Luchsinger), an undercover nun-exorcist posing as an accountant to gain entry to the mansion to better defeat the tyrant.

There’s much to admire in this audacious and bloody historical revisionist farce masquerading as a gothic fairy tale – including some sumptuous monochrome tableaux featuring a caped figure gliding through the Santiago night sky, courtesy of cinematographer Ed Lachman (Virgin suicides, Carole). The batshit Only Fascist Left Alive premise is truly something to cherish, and there’s more than a hint of Kubrick’s idea. Dr Strangelove in the narrative tone of Larraín and co-writer Guillermo Calderón – particularly in the way the dark humor hits most of its targets.

However, there may not be much to wholeheartedly love here, especially if you’re watching on Netflix. El Conde is a cinematic achievement that deserves a theatrical experience, as the music of the works of Juan Pablo Ávalo and Marisol García works wonders and the aforementioned black and white images require real projection on the big screen.

There’s also no denying that the graphic, widespread violence in the decade-spanning opening act unravels disappointingly quickly, leading to a middle section that features repetitive interview segments that are a bit of a chore to get through. This second act lacks the inventiveness and impact of earlier scenes, such as a young Pinochet (then “Pinoche”) licking the blood from Marie Antoinette’s guillotine and respectfully decamping with her severed head as a souvenir.

Things pick up notably in the last act, which is an absolute explosion. Nothing will be spoiled here, but if you thought the initial setup was crazy, new characters (previously heard but not seen) appear with Freudian motivations, and this more than makes up for some of the mid-section mismatches.

The persistent problem with El Conde The fact remains that its satirical weight is undermined by an overzealous approach to commentary, anything but the heart mixer, meaning it all gets a little messy as the curtain falls. You understand where Larraín is going with this allegorical and cautionary tale that highlights the dark tendency of history to repeat itself. By using the vampire myth, the director better highlights how the crimes and tyranny of a symbol of fascism persist through time and do not fade with death. A bit like vampires. Frustratingly little is shown about Pinochet’s crimes, diluting the possible impact of the brutality of his impunity, and criticism of the role of the Church during the dictator’s rule is undermined by ultimately useless character of Carmencita. You wish the film had fully relied on Carmencita’s narrative potential, or embraced its B-movie credentials a little more to properly drive an issue to the heart of its political argument.


That said, El Conde still gets the blood flowing like an aesthetically polished, brilliantly grotesque and completely unique Pinochet panto. It also contains some memorable lines – including Pinochet announcing that he was retreating from the dinner table where his entire family is gathered and assuring his first wife Lucia (Gloria Munchmeyer) that he would “ride” her one last time like the horse of a bandit.

The charmer.

El Conde fits in well with Larraín’s previous (and superior) films Post mortem, No And The club, which also speak of the tenacious specter of Pinochet; and while its execution may prove too scattered for some viewers, you won’t regret jumping into this one.

El Conde is now available on Netflix.


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