In this new dark satire from Pablo Larraín (Spencer, Neruda), Chilean general and dictator August Pinochet (Jaime Vadell) is a vampire. It’s not a stretch. He did suck the country dry during his time in power. The film, shot is gorgeous black and white, takes place on a desolate island in the south of the country where Pinochet has taken up residence after his ouster. Having faked his death to escape punishment for his many crimes, he is living there in a crumbling mansion with his wife (Gloria Münchmeyer ) and dutiful servant Fyodor (Alfredo Castro). The film opens with a uniform-clad form taking to the skies in search of a nice beating heart. But when news stories of multiple killings in the area hit the airwaves, Pinochet’s middle-aged children descend on the island to check up on Dad and, more importantly, their own financial futures. It’s not one big happy family.
The movie gives the audience a brief overview of how Pinochet became a vampire 250 years ago in France. And he has a few momentoes of his romp through history lying around the house, including Marie Antionette’s head and Napoleon’s hat. But El Conde (The Count) as he likes to be addressed is not having fun any more and is ready to die, causing his wife and Fyodor to urge him to feed more often. The arrival of his money-grubbing children only exacerbates his desire to leave it all behind. They’ve brought along Carmen, a nun who they pass off as an accountant. She’s supposedly come to make sense of the family’s excessive wealth. But she’s really there to kill Dad, after they find all the money he’s stashed at home and abroad. And as she compiles a dossier of all the family money, all the bloody secrets of Pinochet’s reign are exposed.
American audiences will know director Pablo Larraín for his Oscar-nominated films Spencer and Jackie. But of the 10 movies he has made, they are the only ones not made in and about Chile. I loved his film No, about the surprising advertising campaign that brought down Pinochet. But it skirted the history of the brutal dictator. Larrain has said that he wanted to do a film about Pinochet for a long time but did not want anyone to have any sympathy for the man. His Pinochet sees himself as a misunderstood monster, but it is the monster that comes through. With El Conde, Larrain has made the film he’s long been dreaming of. It is funny at spots, sickening at moments, and totally worth a watch. It’s ended its theatrical run, so look for it now online.
Streaming now on Netflix.