El Conde (The Count)



Main Cast: Jaime Vadell, Gloria Munchmeyer

Director: Pablo Larrain

The production company behind Tiger Queen, the new musical adaptation of the television series Tiger King, retooled as to make Carol Baskin the leading figure, is dragging its feet regarding script rewrites which will punch up my role as Carol into the true star part that the public wants and needs to see me perform. The pages that arrived at Condo Maine this afternoon by special courier simply will not do. A new duet for Carol and her deceased husband in which he accuses her of his murder simply will not do. I need a power ballad solo, an energetic up tempo tap number with full chorus, and an extended fantasy sequence at the very least.

I have therefore taken it upon myself to do the necessary rewriting. As I simply don’t have the time in my busy schedule to sit down at the typewriter and hunt and peck my way through the script, I am in the process of finding a suitable ghost writer who can make the required changes in a timely fashion. The yacht is in dry dock having barnacles scraped off the hull and a complete redo of the state rooms in a sort of post modern Chinoiserie so there are some cost savings from that budget that I can shift over to pay the correct candidate. I’m sure Captain Drew will understand.

In the meantime, I continue to work on getting my famous legs in shape for the strenuous days of filming yet to come. Lulu Pigg, my tap therapist, is really taking me through my paces. The single and double time steps are back and rapid fire but I’m still having some teensy difficulties with the triple time step. Generous applications of Tiger Balm and a couple of hours a day on the Dance Dance Revolution floor pad attached to the Xbox should bring me back into fighting form by the end of the month.

I’m also working very hard on the pipes with Madame Mimi, my vocal coach. The high C is back in place, but the octave above still needs a bit of work. I’ve been singing a fabulous new up tempo arrangement of Die Holle Rache in my spare moments and, with the right backing track, I’m sure we could get a fabulous new Dance Club single out of it. If Dolly Parton can have a number one album at age 78, I don’t see why I can’t have a number one single at my ever youthful half her age 39. Perhaps Kanye could get behind it and push it to some of the more exclusive clubs out there. I’ve heard he’s a fan of mine. I’ll have my management team reach out to his people.

I walked down the grand staircase singing, and only cracking occasionally on those high Fs,, and headed into the home theater to celebrate with a film. I was in a bit of a ‘show me something serious and refined’ mood so I loaded Netflix up and looked at their offerings which are nominated for this years Oscars. I ran across a Chilean film, El Conde (The Count) of which I had not previously heard but which seems to be a nominee for best cinematography. I turned it on thinking I’d be turning it off again in five minutes but the film was so weirdly wonderful that I could not take my eyes away until the end. And it definitely deserves it’s cinematography nomination, being one of the best photographed films I’ve seen in some time, taking place in a black and white dreamscape. I have always been a fan of black and white photography and it’s a shame that more films don’t go with the convention. There are a few which I have always felt would have been improved if they had been made in black and white. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape is one that always comes to mind and which always seems to have been filmed that way when I think back on it even though it was made in color.

El Conde is a bit difficult to describe. Basically, it’s a magic realism fantasia about General Augusto Pinochet, the Chilean dictator who notoriously overthrew democratically elected president Salvador Allende in the early 1970s with CIA help and began a brutal dictatorship that lasted some decades. In this universe, Pinochet (Jaime Vadell) is a several century old vampire who was created in pre-Revolutionary France and who, after being involved in the execution of Marie Antoinette, vows to become a counter-Revolutionary, eventually making his way to the new world and into the Chilean army where he marries Lucia (Gloria Munchmeyer) and rises to the top of the power structure.

But now, it’s several decades into the 21st century. Pinochet, who insists on his family referring to him as ‘The Count’, is out of power, having faked his own death and living in what appears to be an abandoned military installation on the Northern Chilean coastline somewhere with his wife and butler Fyodor (Alfredo Castro). Instead of remaining old and enfeebled, he appears to go out stalking victims in the Santiago night and eating their hearts, upsetting his five adult children who arrive at the compound to discuss bad behavior and inheritances. Unbeknownst to him, they have also hired a nun-exorcist Carmen (Paula Luchsinger) to come and help contain their troublesome father. These disparate folks quietly clash in the buildings of this decrepit installation, which come with a functional guillotine in the center, and there are alliances, betrayals and, eventually, the appearance of another world famous politician who was Pinochet’s maker and who is determined to get him back into their power.

El Conde is a wild ride, quickly laying out the rules for vampiric existence and setting up the various plot threads and motivations through some skillfully done scenes, both modern and flashback. The use of the black and white photography gives the whole thing the feeling of a dreamscape in which anything can happen, and usually does. With the exception of the nun Carmen, who appears to be in her twenties, all of the other characters are elderly or aging – Pinochet and his wife appear to be about eighty, their children in their forties and fifties, the butler in his seventies. It’s rare that a film has that many older and lived-in bodies and faces on display. No American film would likely dare. And these are vital people who live, love, betray, have sex, kill, and all of the other things that make up human existence.

El Conde is written and directed by Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larrain and is blackly comic. Some of the images are grotesque. Some are beautiful. Some are pure WTF. He is obviously using the metaphor of the vampire and its need to feed upon humans to comment on the politics of authoritarianism and dictatorship and how these too prey upon and destroy. But he’s never heavy handed, letting us as audience draw our own inferences. The introduction of the second political vampire late in the proceedings (although having been present from the beginning as an unidentified narrator) brings additional layers of meaning and discomfort to the fore. It’s a rather daring twist, but it serves the material well.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film quite like El Conde and I’ll probably give it a second watch in order to catch all of the ideas and details present that I may have missed the first time. The version on Netflix is dubbed into English (which I usually don’t care for) but it makes a certain amount of plot sense for this to be the case. It’s definitely worth taking a look at.

Revolutionary mob. Multiple stakings. Flying nun. Valuable books. Gratuitous naked victim. Exorcism kit. Guillotined horse. Hearts on frappe. Uncomfortable family dinners.

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