Review: Chilean Filmmaker Pablo Larraín Returns to His Homeland, and Dark Political Humor, for El Conde

The great Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín (Neruda, The Club, Jackie, Spenser) has returned for his latest film to a subject and feeling he grew up with in his homeland: what it was like to grow up under the fascist rule of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet (Jaime Vadell), who supposedly hated royalty but still liked to be called The Count (or El Conde). Described in the credits as “A satire by Pablo Larraín” (who also co-wrote with Guillermo Calderón), the film is an alternative history in which Pinochet was actually a vampire who lives in a crumbling Patagonian mansion, in the cold southern tip of Chile.

As a child, Pinochet was present for the French Revolution; he even licked the blood off the guillotine that severed the head of Marie Antoinette. But after roughly 250 years on earth, he has decided to forgo blood-sucking and allow himself to get older and die. He’s disappointed that his legacy is that of a cruel monster, and it doesn’t help that his five grown children (none of whom are vampires, though they all still want to drain the value of their father’s fortune once he’s dead) have all arrived to see their father shuffle off this mortal coil, sooner rather than later, if he’d be so kind.

Shot in stunning black-and-white by the great cinematographer Ed Lachman, and played for the darkest laughs imaginable, El Conde is about a man so lost worrying about his own legacy that he doesn’t spend enough time considering the horrors he’s doing in the present. But through meaningful interactions with an accountant, Carmencita (Paula Luchsinger), he’s recently hired to get his affairs in order, he begins to find new inspiration to keep on living and perhaps even find a new, more positive purpose in life. Of course, the accountant is secretly a nun who has come to destroy him. 

With Pinochet’s wife Lucia (Gloria Münchmeyer) and not-so-loyal servant (Alfredo Castro) working both for him and against him at various points, the film isn’t afraid to get gory or absurd and often both. El Conde has a stash of frozen hearts that he occasionally throws in a blender to give him sustenance, and when he does decide to drink from the tap (as it were), things can get comically messy. In the end, Pinochet finds himself a counterrevolutionary thanks to his interactions with the nun/accountant, and it changes the course of his thinking and his life.

I’m sure a more complete working knowledge of Chile’s history under Pinochet’s rule would help you understand all of the jokes and references, but honestly, there’s plenty here to drink in and appreciate for those of us who don’t have a degree in political science. Larraín simply knows what he’s doing and is considerate and generous enough to make sure there’s something here for everybody—the South American history buff, the gore hound, and the art-house fiend. This a throughly engaging, beautifully executed, slightly icky work.

The film is now streaming on Netflix.

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Steve Prokopy
Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.