Synopsis – A young woman’s desperate search for her abducted boyfriend that draws her into the infamous Colonia Dignidad, a sect nobody ever escaped from.
My Take – Honestly, as I walked into the cinema I didn’t know what to expect from this film, mainly as the film had received negative reviews from critics all over the internet. I had no prior information about the 1973 military coup in Chile or the notorious cult led by the German lay preacher Paul Schäfer in the south-lands of Chile. The general idea which I carried with me was that, this film was about a young girl searching for her boyfriend in some insane political situation. Nevertheless I decided to perceive the film based on my thoughts mainly as a fan of the Harry Potter film series we tend to have a sense of loyalty towards its young leads namely Daniel Radcliffe & Emma Watson, plus I am a growing fan of Daniel Bruhl too. And guess what, the film is quite awesome! The story follows Lena (Emma Watson), in 1973, a stewardess working for Lufthansa Airlines who on a stop over in Chile, decides to visit her boyfriend Daniel (Daniel Brühl), a photographer and artist working closely together with supporters of President Salvador Allende. However when General Pinochet overthrows the Government and assumes power, Daniel gets identified as one of the Allende’s supporters and is captured and transported to a remote colony in the South of Chile, called Colonia Dignidad.
Lena searches for Daniel, figuring out that Colonia Dignidad is a sect run by the sadistic preacher Paul Schäfer (Michael Nyqvist), who cooperates with Pinochet. The commune is used as a torture and detention center, and Daniel is brutally tortured upon his arrival. In an attempt to free him, Lena joins the Colony in order to save him. With the strict separation of men and women, Lena spends months living in the camp’s harsh conditions until she finds out that Daniel is still alive and working on a way to escape. What she hoped would be a matter of days — finding Daniel and making their escape — turns into a months-long ordeal, thanks to the controlling, repressive atmosphere of the camp. Shchäfer does have that iron fist, but his first resort is humiliation. When Lena arrives he forces her to undresses for him, then shames her for it. The worst punishment for women is called “the whore’s gathering.” When one of the women sins badly, Schafer schedules a special evening meeting. The woman is called out to the front of the men’s meeting room. Then Schäfer works the men up into a moralistic, judgmental frenzy, then encourages them to go beat the devil out of her. As if Schafer wasn’t creepy enough, a scene shows him molesting prepubescent boys in the shower, while the other boys serenade with their angelic voices. I think the movie goes too far in bringing this up — we’ve already come to despise the villain. The film starts of as a typical romance, set just before the military coup in Chile. Lena surprises her boyfriend, who is living in Chile since months, with a visit and the two spend two intimate days together, smooching and making love. To say the truth, the first 20 minutes couldn’t be a more cliched depiction of romance on film but once Pinochet’s men start rallying up supporters of Allende, the movie makes a complete change in tone. Gone are the pink love-goggles and a much darker atmosphere spreads throughout this political-thriller. The film takes the audience along Lena’s intense struggle to survive and the couple’s even more intense escape from Schäfer. While Lena and Daniel’s love story are not factual, Paul Schäfer and Colonia Dignidad are apparently were very much real. I found myself asking a lot of questions as the credits rolled and started googling online for more information on the colony and its leader.
Even though the film focused more on the love story instead of the reasoning of the torture camp’s existence, director Florian Gallenberger makes sure the camp plays as another character to the story other than just being a mere backdrop to the whole larger picture. The film succeeds in telling a compelling story and makes very good use of tension building, in fact I was on the edge of my seat during most of the film’s runtime. While some may refer the end of this film as very mainstream and unexceptional, I believe it was staged to provide a sense of hope. Mainly as dignity is used as a tool here, for a character like Schaefer to exercise his control on the colony without anyone questioning his leadership. The separation of the sexes, the constant physical abuse, especially of women were constant examples used in the film, as a result of which the climax, however it may have seem cliched, seemed just. Plus it’s mildly refreshing to see a lad in distress instead of a damsel in distress. The core cast are excellent choices for their respective parts. Emma Watson gives one of her finest performances here. She does a great job at expressing the disgust and contempt for cult leader Paul Schäfer. In some way or other her character manages to connect to the audience, especially her motivation to find her man at any cost. If only more history would have been provided about her character’s past. Daniel Brühl is no stranger to politically charged narratives. Daniel wears his idealism on his sleeve to the point that his need for justice repeatedly puts them in danger. Michael Nyqvist provides a great rendition of a psychotic sadistic leader. Nyqvist’s presence comes off as deranged and dangerous every time he steps on screen; sending shivers down my back. Nyqvist’s commitment to playing the cruel authoritarian is most believable, which makes it doubly disturbing. If you walk in, NOT expecting a revolutionary movie that focuses around the machinations of the sect and its leader Paul Schäfer, you will enjoy this film. If you expect to see more about this the cult, you will be severely disappointed! On the whole, ‘Colonia’ is a refreshing competent thriller led by some formidable performances.
Director – Florian Gallenberger
Rated – N/A
Run Time – 110 minutes