Review of ‘The Count’: His bite is worse | ET REALITY


Pablo Larraín’s black-and-white horror parody, “El Conde,” is based on a vicious joke: former dictator Augusto Pinochet flying through the night in search of human blood. With a military cape billowing over his thighs, Pinochet flies with his back as straight as an early Superman series, a warning that Larraín (“Jackie,” “Spencer”) needs audiences to play along with his brash reinvention. of the despot as a 250-year-old Vampire.

This Pinochet, played with imperious cruelty by Jaime Vadell, was once a rebel-eating French monarchist who sailed to South America in search of fresh meat. It’s a comical premise: What is this part of the extended universe of “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”? — except that Larraín only half laughs. The Pinochet of history oversaw the execution or disappearance of thousands of Chileans. Larraín’s version of the man did that too, with just one adjustment: he mixes his victims into a smoothie.

The director has been sharpening his tools for this confrontation. Born in Santiago three years after Pinochet took power in 1973, Larraín won early praise for the period pieces “Tony Manero” (2009), “Post Mortem” (2012) and the Oscar-nominated “No” (2013). , a trilogy of satires that used Pinochet as an invisible boogeyman. The director diverted attention from him beyond Chile with two psychodramas that pierced the iconography of Jacqueline Kennedy and Princess Diana and turned political celebrity into a nightmare. He has returned home, he has said in interviews, because he believes his country is still divided —and tormented—not only by Pinochet’s crimes but also by his impunity. The former president successfully avoided trial until his death in 2006. And Larraín has resurrected him to drag him into the light.

Our setting is the present where we find Pinochet hiding in Patagonia, a shocking excuse for exaggerated fogs and cruel winds that howl under each scene. (Ed Lachman’s gothic cinematography pairs well with Juan Pablo Ávalo and Marisol García’s violent yarns.) The film begins as a series of dialogue-light flashbacks: Pinochet licks Marie Antoinette’s blood from a guillotine; he usurps the birthday of his wife, Lucía (Gloria Münchmeyer), by faking a heart attack; he struggles to play dead as a protester spits on his coffin. At first, the dehydrated vampire is too thirsty to do anything but remember the past. Although inert, he is lavished with adoration by his fascist butler (Alfredo Castro) and the British narrator (Stella Gonet), who does her best to force the audience to accept that Pinochet is a national hero.

Larraín and his writing partner Guillermo Calderón are happy to put a horror spin on scenes that point to facts as often as they lie. Trapped with a corpse in an 18th century brothel, the young vampire uses the same defense that the real Pinochet gave when asked if he headed Chile’s secret police: “I don’t remember, but it’s not true. And if it were true, I don’t remember.” The line provokes laughter, but the sting is our awareness that we’d rather deal with Pinochet’s depredations as a camp than a grim documentary reality.

The plot does not begin until Pinochet’s five greedy adult children arrive at his rural estate to receive their share of his fortune. They’re hurt that she refuses to die, and equally bothered that she’s stashed their money in so many hidden accounts that it takes a financial genius, a curious nun named Carmen (Paula Luchsinger), to uncover her millions. Joan of Arc’s harvest of Carmen is a clue that she considers the mortal members of the family to be blood-sucking parasites.

There are many ways to serve the film’s easily digestible metaphor. We get it: most humans are simply companions to the elites. Just when the joke starts to wear thin, Larraín expands this universe with a surprise cameo (consider it his version of “Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman”) that elicits a chuckle and an indignant nod. But while the filmmaker has the nerve to caricature tyranny, he is either too cynical or too honest to conclude “The Count” with a satisfying resolution. Larraín has finally faced his monster, but he doesn’t dare drive a stake through her heart.

Rated R for gruesome black and white blood spurts. In Spanish, with subtitles. Duration: 1 hour 50 minutes. Watch it on Netflix.

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