The fiftieth anniversary of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s brutal rule is being marked with editorials, essays by historians, eye-witnesses accounts – and a demented satire in which Pinochet is a 250-year-old vampire.

Celebrated Chilean director Pablo Larrain marks a sobering milestone with provocative mischief. El Conde (The Count) has been premiered on Netflix after being screened at the Venice Film Festival. Brilliantly shot in black and white by Edward Lachman, El Conde is strangely compelling despite its overstretched gimmickiness, a weak middle section and heavy-handed exposition.

The movie is Larrain’s latest attempt after Tony Manero, Post Mortem and No to examine Pinochet’s complicated legacy 17 years after his death in the real world. Larrain also has a string of unorthodox biopics to his credit, from Neruda to Spencer.

An alt-history narrated by Stella Gonet in English explains Pinochet’s actual origins. The droll commentary commends Pinochet (Jaime Vadell) for resisting revolution, whatever the age. When this pro-establishment figure becomes the establishment, Chile prospers despite the intense criticism, the voiceover notes.

Now old and living on a remote ranch with his human wife and loyal executioner Fyodor (Alfredo Castro), Pinochet has been surviving by snacking on fresh and frozen hearts. He’s tired of it all, and is ready to divide his ill-begotten fortune among his spouse and five rapacious children.

Alfredo Castro in El Conde (2023). Courtesy Netflix.

The movie arrives at a time when the lessons of the past are being forgotten, fascism is once again gaining currency around the world and conspiracy theories are preferred to actual history. The role of truth-seeker in El Conde is performed by a young nun, who poses as an accountant to get a true measure of just how much wealth Pinochet made at Chile’s expense.

The monochrome design helps sidestep the grisly visuals of Pinochet and his aide Fyodor slaking their thirst for human blood. More macabre than the slayings is the cynicism of Pinochet’s family and supporters, who see him as a persecuted, misunderstood figure.

Pinochet hunts in vain for a commemorative bust or statue. “History is never fair,” Stella Gonet dryly notes. The voiceover, while often on the nose, has several moments of lacerating wit.

Gonet also plays the character Margaret, who features in the film’s delirious final act. After spending far too much time on the nun Carmen’s fact-finding mission and the dynamics of Pinochet’s family. El Conde rallies around for a wild, inventive denouement. Always provocative, visually stunning, and heavyweight despite its tone, the movie is among the unlikeliest entries in Pinochet studies available.

El Conde (2023).