© 2024 KMUW
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Stay tuned to KMUW and NPR for the latest developments from the Republican National Convention.

El Conde is a satirical look at a horrifying subject


Last Monday was the 50th anniversary of Augusto Pinochet’s coup d'état in Chile, which ushered in a dictatorship that saw thousands dead, tortured, disappeared and sent to concentration camps. The Chilean director Pablo Larraín has returned to this topic multiple times, though perhaps never as surreally as with his newest film, El Conde, which imagines Pinochet as a 250-year-old vampire who faked his death in 2006.

This Pinochet dedicated himself to ruining popular uprisings throughout history, having been disaffected by losing his status during the French Revolution. He drinks blood, of course, although his primary motivation seems to have been funneling money to himself as much as possible. And these days he’s an old man, because he’s stopped eating and drinking in an effort to die for real. The Chilean people are ungrateful, he says, and see him as a thief, even though all he did was use his power to get rich. His bumbling, rapacious children have arrived at his house to sort out their inheritances, as has an accountant who is actually a nun sent by the Church to deal with the vampire, and who lays out many of Pinochet’s crimes to his face while flattering him the whole time, making it clear he sees none of what he did as much of a problem.

The movie has some of the emotional dissonance found in Larraín’s other films, including his quasi-biopics of Jacqueline Kennedy and Princess Diana, and you’re not always sure of your footing in his movies. This one is shot in black-and-white, looking alternately stunning and muddy, and I often wondered if there was any more to what I was seeing than the central vampiric conceit. But the director does a good job of showing how those with extreme power and wealth are able to turn their own abhorrent behavior into personal grievances, as if no matter what they do, they’re the ones who’ve been wronged. And if that sounds familiar, well, in some ways it may not matter whether Pinochet is actually dead or not.

El Conde is on Netflix September 15th.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.