Seeking out the

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El conde
The Count

Directed by Pablo Larraín
Produced by Juan de Dios Larraín and Rocío Jadue
With: Jaime Vadell, Gloria Münchmeyer, Alfredo Castro, Paula Luchsinger, Stella Gonet, Catalina Guerra, Amparo Noguera, Antonia Zegers, Marcial Tagle, Diego Muñoz, and Clemente Rodríguez
Cinematography: Edward Lachman
Editing: Sofía Subercaseaux
Runtime: 110 min
Release Date: 15 September 2023
Aspect Ratio: 2.00 : 1
Color: Black and White

The latest from Pablo Larraín (No, Jackie, Spencer) squanders a terrific premise. The film supposes that Chili's former dictator, Gen. Augusto Pinochet, is an immortal vampire who, after sucking the lifeblood of the proletariat in many continents for over two hundred and fifty years, is finally ready to die. Unfortunately for the Count, his family and familiars are not going to let him go without taking a bite from him. This concept drips with potential for black comedy and scathing political commentary, but all it gives us is a literal commentary. The original screenplay by Larraín and his sometime collaborator, playwright Guillermo Calderón, is an extended voice-over monologue decorated with nicely composed shots of characters sitting, looking at each other, and occasionally speaking. Every once in a while, we get to see the Count (or another vampire) take flight, but for the most part, this feels like a 12-page short story that has been extended into a ponderous audiobook and then illustrated with moving pictures. Most of the details in the picture, including the reveal of the person behind the plummy narration, feel like ingredients for a superb satire. Too bad Larraín and his team decided not to fashion these elements into an actual film, settling on something that feels like a cross between a graphic novel and a lengthy music video with no melody. Perhaps Larraín's goal is to create a film embodying the idea of being unhappily undead as the way he portrays his weary and disgruntled protagonist. But an animated yet lifeless movie can only work on a cerebral level, and the story here is so undeveloped there isn't enough to engage with on an intellectual level. 

The Oscar-nominated black and white cinematography comes courtesy of the great American cinematographer Edward Lachman, who shot Susan Seidelman’s Desperately Seeking Susan, David Byrne’s True Stories, Mira Nair’s Mississippi Masala, Paul Schrader’s Light Sleeper, Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, Steven Soderbergh’s Erin Brockovich, Todd Haynes’ Far from Heaven, and Robert Altman’s A Prairie Home Companion. Maybe if I saw this projected in a theater, I'd think the photography is worthy of a third Oscar nomination for Lachman, but since this is a Netflix release that I, like most folks, streamed at home, it looked like the same dark, compressed, muddy monochrome as Mank and Blonde. (Still, I viewed Roma and Passing via the same streamer under the same projection conditions, and they looked far more impressive). 

Twitter Capsule:

Gen. Augusto Pinochet is imagined as an immortal 250-year-old vampire weary of sucking the lifeblood of the proletariat in Pablo Larraín's lifeless black comedy, which I can only assume is an attempt to make a movie that feels undead.