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Pablo Larraín’s neat parable about Augusto Pinochet, excels in visual storytelling, gloomy atmosphere and wry humour but thematically the film bites off more than it can chew.

El Conde deals in striking black-and-white imagery: a human heart in a juice blender, a gothic fireplace seemingly ready to devour living room guests, an ancient creature of the night flying like a stealth bat over modern-day Santiago de Chile.

The picture also deals in intriguing revisionist history, portraying Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet as a centuries old vampire, whose thirst for blood - in this astute but not always biting satire - is only surpassed by his greed.

When El Condo is on form the picture is as good as any you'll likely see this year: half the brothers Grimm, half a stark warning from history. Its message, far from subtle as it might be, is also highly effective and engaging, carried along by the exquisite visuals director Pablo Larraín and cinematographer Edward Lachman (the latter surely bound for an Oscar nom) paint with grand guignol gusto on the screen.

Alas not all of the swings the movie takes are as bold or imaginative as they at first appear to be. And a final act twist that keen observers will see coming within the first ten minutes merely leads into a predictable denouement that gets stuck in a purgatory between political satire and the genre conventions of the vampire flick.

Overall, El Conde does leave a lasting impression though, even if the films is too often less than the sum of its parts.

release: 2023

director: Pablo Larraín

starring: Jaime Vadell, Paula Luchsinger, Stella Gonet, Alfredo Castro


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