Directed by Pablo Larraín | Written by Larraín and Guillermo Calderón | 110 min | ▲▲▲△△ | Netflix
Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín has directed some of the most fascinating, most diverse films of the past 10 or so years — The Club, Neruda, Jackie, Ema, and Spencer — and to that stellar collection he now adds this curiosity. Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography (lensed by Edward Lachman, who was DP on Carol), the film is undeniably gorgeous-looking in low-contrast black and white. However, a movie this idiosyncratic likely won’t have a broad fang appeal.
(Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. )
We’re introduced to the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet (Jaime Vadell). Though he died in 2006, he apparently faked his death and it wasn’t the first time. In this story he’s been alive for centuries as a vampire. The effects here are pretty cool — especially the shots of the floating, caped figure over the city. Pinochet’s adult children are concerned about their inheritance so hire a nun, Carmen (Paula Luchsinger), to exorcise and murder him, but he unexpectedly falls in love with her.
Perhaps the strangest thing in this Spanish-language film is a voice-over in English by someone doing an entirely convincing impersonation. You may recognize her before the big reveal of her identity, but her presence here takes the film in a decidedly surprising direction.
El Conde works best as a satire of Chilean history and politics. I bet it really resonates with Chilean audiences, especially the generation who lived with Pinochet’s atrocities. It’s always a healthy thing for a culture to make fun of its authoritarian figures — please see The Death of Stalin — and the movie excels in this and looks really good while doing it — the Oscar nod is well-deserved. It also splashes the screen with buckets of gore and an indulges in a general fascination with bodily fluids. In that it reminds me more than a little of The Lighthouse.
So, if you liked that picture, I have a movie for you — just as kooky, though heavier on hearts in blenders.