Chilean director Pablo Larrain, who made a name for himself with his Jackie Kennedy and Princess Diana dramas “Jackie” and “Spencer,” chose General Augusto Pinochet as the subject of his latest film, the dark satire “El Conde.” Screening in competition at the Venice Film Festival, the black-and-white movie depicts Pinochet as a 250-year-old vampire who lusts for blood and whose family gathers at his remote hideout.
With the death of dictator Pinochet still a sensitive topic in his home country, Larrain’s bold and original take on a man who left an imprint of inequality, greed, and mistrust in Chilean society seems to be the right choice for the filmmaker. “El Conde” isn’t just a horror movie but a macabre farce steeped in reality and a bleak fable about the persistence of evil.
Starring Jaime Vadell in a tour de force performance as the undead dictator, “El Conde” is a gothic saga with a message. It isn’t a petty and unwarranted attack on the former leader but rather a critique of the legacy of his rule that is still very much alive in the constitution that he approved, the prominent business people who benefited from his policies, the divisions that he created among his compatriots, and the ferocious egoism of power-seeking people that permeates Latin America and the rest of the world.
The movie takes place in 2022 when Chile prepares to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1973 coup that brought Pinochet to power. It has been a decade since his death, and the dictator is a prisoner of his lust for immortality. Pinochet (Vadell) is tired of the suckling of mortals and the constant search for blood that his existence demands.
He’s ready to move on. The only trouble is that his five adult children have all turned up to claim their inheritance.
Larrain and regular scribe Guillermo Calderon have crafted a film that has plenty of laughs but also shivers and dread. Scenes of a caped Pinochet flying over the streets of Santiago or crushing his victims with his mighty strength are enough to send shivers up the spine. The film also has enough blood and gore to qualify as a queasy horror, although the director doesn’t tap into the atrocities waged against Pinochet’s people.
The cast includes Gloria Munchmeyer, Alfredo Castro, Paula Luchsinger, Marcial Tagle, Catalina Guerra, and Antonia Zegers. The crisply composed and beautifully shot black-and-white movie is another masterful work from Larrain, whose work stands as one of the most influential and accomplished in recent cinema history. His sad and macabre tale has a timeless quality that will reach far beyond the festival circuit. Netflix, which is supporting the film, shouldn’t be scolded for its risk-taking and artistic ambitions in support of this bold and twisted vision. It’s a film bound to cause controversy and generate conversation in a year when the industry needs it most. The film is set to open in theaters in September.