The Colony, 2015.
Directed by Florian Gallenberger.
Starring Daniel Brühl, Emma Watson, Richenda Carey, Vicky Krieps, Michael Nyqvist, Jeanne Werner, Martin Wuttke and August Zirner.
After the 1973 Chilean coup d’état against President Salvador Allende, a young German political activist is kidnapped, and deported to the sealed-off hamlet ‘Colonia Dignidad.’ His wife voluntarily enters the village to rescue her husband, and discover it’s a cult ruled by malevolent fanatics.
Any film proclaiming to be based on a true story had best to do a just service to those affected, or to produce a highly subjective piece for a more visceral experience. Besides a proclamation of this ilk the film will have aficionados questioning the films legitimacy – either on its facts or on its ability to translate factoids to the cinematic medium. In short, filmmakers are wise to do their research. In the case of The Colony, this reviewer is not such an aficionado on ‘Colonia Dignidad’ 40-year reign, albeit understands the basic historic timeline, and can instead focus on its narrative. It is unfortunate then to report that this film doesn’t put forth many interesting facts (i.e. one can forgive a film if the viewer had learnt something), and lacks the dramatic weight and tension in this flawed romantic thriller.
The introduction of flight attendant Lena (Emma Watson) seeing her husband, a German political émigré, Daniel (Daniel Brühl) will send alarm-bells ringing to its viewers; this married couple exude the kind of chemistry of two youngsters on their fourth date. As they frolic in his student apartment, taking pictures of themselves, and cooking naked breakfasts, one will come to understand they’re a couple, and the hostile milieu will come tumbling down upon them – that’s about it, really. Oh, and Daniel isn’t too fond of his mother.
Daniel is kidnapped by the Chilean secret police, and is taken to ‘Colonia Dignidad.’ Before the audience is privy to life inside the cultic hamlet, the film shifts its focus onto Lena attempting her break in. Her successful plan to enter the enclave will send alarm-bells ringing (again): she walks up to the entrance disguised as a conservatively reformed nun, and, after a brief exchange with an elderly matron-like figure named Gisela (Rechenda Carey) guarding the gate, she enters: and it’s shown as simply as it is written. The film throughout is constructed in this manner of brief exchanges and quick resolutions, and thus dissipates any tension that could potentially arise. Furthermore, such potential moments are squandered by the film’s choice to tell rather than show. One particularly striking moment is when Daniel comes to understand the systematic ordering of maintaining this separatist enclave; it’s told in one sentence, in order to give space for Daniel to crawl through a tunnel, and for Lena to get back to peeling potatoes (true story).
Maintaining this gendered separatist state is the religious fanatic Paul Schäfer (Michael Nyqvist), who conveys the menace one sees in an Exploitation flick. This underwritten villain projects minimal malevolence, with only hints of his heinous actions – given that the true character had Nazi ties, was a serial child molester, and sold illegal arms to the Chilean secret police. Through his religious diatribes he is able to justify his actions, and to brainwash the male prison populace to be complicit, and to partake, in such misogynistic violence. This does all sound horrible, but Nyqvist and Carey as Gisela give such restrained performances that it jars against their malicious actions.
Stringing this narrative together are animated title-cards that dictate the story’s time-lapses and positions the locale in relation to the following scene. Given the harsh conditions these characters endure, one would expect them, and their fellow captives, to look dishevelled. Well, in spite of how many months they’ve been there toiling away at the fields, and being subjected to physical and mental torture, they look about as dishevelled and starved as someone who’s missed their breakfast. This then undermines the purpose of these title-cards as the audience is left wondering, “Is time in ‘Colonia Dignidad’ really that bad?”
The Colony leaves the true story to lurk in the background as it focuses on two fictional characters to filter the horror. With glimpses of the political turmoil underpinning this sealed-off camp, and the film skimming over the extent of Paul Schäfer’s heinous actions and twisted rhetoric, this makes for a frustrating viewing experience.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★