With six feature film credits in the past ten years, Pablo Larraín is one of today’s most prolific filmmakers, but he returns to the Lido this week with a new proposal.
El CondeHis latest feature film, an inventive black-and-white satire of the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, is his first film for a streamer. Larraín co-wrote and directed the film, which debuts in Competition op Venice this evening before Netflix.
“I am happy because this film will be released in many living rooms. It’s beautiful,” Larraín said of his work with the streamer.
Starring his regular on-screen collaborators such as Alfredo Castro and Amparo Noguera, El Conde is set in a parallel universe where fascist Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet exists as a vampire. After being removed from power, Pinochet is now hidden in a ruined mansion on the cold southern tip of the continent. He has decided to stop drinking blood and renounce the privilege of eternal life. However, despite his disappointing and opportunistic family, he finds new inspiration to continue with an unexpected relationship.
Veteran Chilean actor Jaime Vadell is Augusto Pinochet in the photo. The brutal dictator remains one of the most divisive figures in Chilean history. He took power 50 years ago next month in a military coup, and during his 17-year reign, more than 40,000 people were persecuted, ranging from imprisonment and torture to execution.
Pinochet’s violence and the legacy he left behind have been a constant theme in Larraín’s Chilean work. However, El Conde – his first head-to-head battle with Pinochet and the dictatorship – may seem like a grand departure for those who know the filmmaker from his work on previous Venice films Jackie And Spencer.
For Larraín, very little separates El Conde from his English-language work.
“I’m a political filmmaker,” he said. “Jackie is a very political film. And Spencer, at. Politics is always in a story. Film can never be apolitical.”
Below, Larraín elaborates on his connection to Pinochet’s legacy, how El Conde started as a TV series at Netflix, how streaming changed the way he directed, and he’s also teasing his next English-language picture, a Maria Callas biopic, starring Angelina Jolie.
DEADLINE: First off, Pablo, you are an extremely prolific filmmaker. You’ve made seven movies and several TV series this decade. How do you feel now?
PABLO LARRAIN: I feel fine. I feel blessed to be busy. This is a challenging job. It requires a lot of work, patience, passion and love, and I still got it. I’ve been able to make movies that I think are important, and that’s a good place to be.
DEADLINE: Congratulations to El Conde. Augusto Pinochet has been featured in many of your films in the past. Can you tell me about his legacy in Chile and how it has influenced your life?
LARRAIN: To me, the Pinochet legacy is divided into two main branches. First, the subsequent division that still exists in my country, where some people believe that we were saved from socialism, and that the pay for it was low and reasonable, which is absurd and immoral. And then some people like me understand that the regime has committed horrific human rights abuses systematically, and that has broken us. We had a figure who could act with impunity, and that impunity led to a lack of healing. Today we still have not achieved that healing. We have not reached an agreement saying that this must never happen again.
Santiago Miter’s last movie, Argentina, 1985for example, is about how Argentines found a way to get justice. That movement created a pact in which most Argentines now know that what happened must never happen again. This lack of justice could last forever in Chile’s case. And that’s the origin of this movie.
DEADLINE: Earlier this year I interviewed one of your regular collaborators, Alfredo Castro, who plays a Pinochet associate in El Conde. You were still editing the film at the time, but Castro described it as your weirdest film yet…
LARRAIN: He also said it was my most important movie. I was shocked when I read that.
DEADLINE: According to Castro, the film is quite experimental and explores Pinochet as a vampire, which is unconventional for a period drama. How did you arrive at this narrative structure?
LARRAIN: This is a film that has its roots in three elements. First, these famous black and white photos of Pinochet back in the day, taken by an Argentinian photographer. We see him wearing this cape. I was so intrigued by those images, and when I looked at it I thought, I’m watching a superhero of evil: What if he’s a vampire? The other is Jaime, who plays Pinochet. I don’t know anyone else who could play the part. He’s a valuable, great actor. And the third point is that there are no other movies or television shows about Pinochet. This is the first. So I thought, can we do that?
DEADLINE: Why were you surprised when Castro described El Conde as your most important film?
LARRAIN: It’s very generous. He is a friend and a master to me. I’m not exactly sure what he meant by important. If I tried to guess, he probably saw something I think is true: El Conde is the end of a cycle of films. I don’t think I will discuss the subject again.
DEADLINE: In the same interview, Castro made a distinction between the films you made in your home country, all of which have strong political remit, and those you made outside Chile. Do you see that difference, and is it intentional?
LARRAIN: No, I’m a political filmmaker. Jackie is a very political film. And Spencer, at. Politics is always in a story. Film can never be apolitical. As long as you describe a society, you make choices. Even if it’s a comedy or an action movie, something that isn’t a political movie, you express political ideas through the way people behave, how race and gender are exposed, and how power works. These are political views. Jackie has an element of American collective unrest with violence. It’s about the assassination of a president and how his wife has to deal with it. Spencer is about a woman in one of the most powerful families in the world. And she has to get out of there because she didn’t accept that reality. So I understand that the films I make in Chile may be more visibly political, but I have a perception of the world through politics that I can’t avoid.
DEADLINE: How did El Conde end up at Netflix?
LARRAIN: I had originally thought that Netflix would want to make a limited series. So Guillermo [Calderón, co-writer] and I designed the story. We wrote the first episode for a possible pilot of a four or five episode series. We presented it to Francisco Ramos, who manages Spanish-language content at Netflix, who said, “Why don’t you make a movie?” I said I thought you wanted television? He said, ‘No, we do everything. And this is better for a movie.’ I said of course, sure. Very good. I’ll take it. And then we wrote the script, they approved it and we made it. I am happy because this movie will appear in many living rooms. It is beautiful. When I made the movie, I thought a lot about how the movie would be viewed on Netflix in terms of pace, rhythm, and universality.
DEADLINE: How does being on Netflix change the way you work as a filmmaker?
LARRAIN: When this crisis between television and film started a few years ago and the streamers came on board, a lot was said, but the truth is that as filmmakers, we are craftsmen. We work with our hands. And if I want to have an audience in a movie theater, I know I have their senses. People’s phones are off, I have 7.1 or Atmos sound, a big screen and a comfortable chair. As such, my timing may be different. I could use the sound room. I could be more ambiguous. I could even be slower or faster. If you’re making a movie that’s going to be mostly on TV, you know the experience is going to be different, so the craft is different too. That is the truth. You’re doing the job wrong if you don’t know where to show your movie. And if you ignore that, the movie will probably fail on a service like Netflix.
DEADLINE: I was recently in Locarno, where I overheard producer Daniel Dreyfus talk about his experience with you on ‘No.’ He said it was wonderfully creative, but difficult to produce and finance because you were all so young. Is it now easier for you to make movies in Chile?
LARRAIN: A movie is always a miracle. Easy is not the right word. We have more experience, especially my brother Juan, the producer. We learned how to make movies. We know more. It’s never been easier. You just start to understand who you’re talking to. And how to put it together. But it’s always very difficult. Even the most famous filmmakers are having a hard time. It’s just a challenging medium.
DEADLINE: You are currently one of the most successful filmmakers in Latin America. The continent has a rich film history. What do you think of the Latin American industry today?
LARRAIN: Latin America is a great place for art in general. We have to struggle with our political and economic situation in comparison to other societies and countries. But it is a healthy place for cinema. Because even during the bad days we found ways to say what we want. Every generation has interesting voices. One of the challenges is overcoming the language barrier. Spanish can be challenging for people because they are not used to reading subtitles. We need to focus on making more universal content without losing our perspective and point of view. There is also a way to tell the same story you want to tell and remember not to talk to your neighbors. You talk to the world.
DEADLINE: Pablo, you are a prolific filmmaker. What can people expect from you next?
LARRAIN: I’m making a movie about Maria Callas. So that’s what I’m preparing. We’ll see what happens and how it turns out. Don’t know. It’s a mystery.
DEADLINE: Do you think production will be disrupted at all by the strikes?
LARRAIN: I do not think so. We are not funded by any of the studios. It is a completely and purely independent film. Shot in Europe. So we should be fine. We should be part of the group of movies the SAG is allowed to shoot.