On the outside „Colonia Dignidad“ in Chile was a deeply religious German community. Behind closed doors sect leader Paul Schäfer drugged and abused his disciples and ran a prison for the Pinochet regime. Florian Gallenberger uses the real story ...
There are astoundingly few films about the messes the West German government and governmental bodies were internationally entangled with. The notion that a film that shows how the supposed German model colony, the religious and fascist “Colonia Dignidad” in Chile, tortured and murdered ex-prisoners of the Pinochet coup regime, was made 40 years after the fact is telling. In 1976 the UN named the colony of German evangelist Paul Schäfer a Chilean torture prison. “Stern” published reports of Junta opposers who were tortured in the Colonia back then as well. The good relationships between the cult to the CSU and the German ambassadors in Chile, Erich Strätling and Hermann Holzheimer, made sure that the German authorities would support Schäfer’s criminal ploys.
The 70s are not as sacrosanct nowadays, but COLONIA DIGNIDAD is still an exception. An extremely thrilling political thriller, made by Florian Gallenberger, whose last film JOHN RABE from 2009 won in four categories of the German film prize. COLONIA’s cast includes stars like Daniel Brühl, Emma Watson, and Michael Nyqvist – a big production for a German film. Daniel Brühl plays a young German photographer in Santiago de Chile who is a socialist and Salvador Allende sympathizer. He is arrested while photographing the military coup and is dragged, hit, and tortured with thousands of other democrats in Estadio Nacional. His girlfriend Lena (Emma Watson), a German flight attendant, finds outs about his imprisonment in Colonia Dignidad. She pretends to be interested in joining the cult. Her boyfriend Daniel plays the unsuspicious colony fool with a melted brain from electro shock therapy. Before they can plan their escape together they need to find a way to meet each other, since men and women are strictly separate from each other. Only colony leader Paul Schäfer, played by Michael Nyqvist with an impressive physicality and a voice that can purr as well as thunder, has access and domain over all the Colonia members.
Gallenberger and his production team obviously did their research. Even the colony maps show up in the film and one can be sure that the depiction of Schäfer’s terror regime and its rules are exactingly depicted. In contrast to Ti West’s similarly loaded film THE SACRAMENT, a cult thriller with a documentary film look about Jim Jones and the mass suicide of his “People’s Temple” in Guyana, it does not convey the cult’s appeal to the members. Nyqvist’s Paul Schäfer is a short-tempered, perverted evangelical fascist who emanates calculated mania, but it is hard to imagine how anyone could even stand a minute with this monster. The psychic structure of the cult is pushed to the sidelines, but what is does show matters: every conversation is dangerous, the mutual control is absolute. The Colonia was above all a regime in which only Schäfer and his closest accomplices profited.
COLONIA DIGNIDAD is a tight genre thriller that proves that German genre cinema can definitely evoke tension. Gallinberger is successful in creating a threatening atmosphere quickly which rapidly escalates at the end. COLONIA brings to mind the best paranoid thrillers of the 70s, like THE PARALLAX VIEW (1974, D: Alan J. Pakula) or THE CONVERSATION (1974, D: Francis Ford Coppola). You would be hard-pressed to make a better ending for a thriller.
In 2005 Paul Schäfer was arrested in Chile. The Colonia Dignidad continues to exist. It’s a tourist location for those that want to experience “German culture”: October fests, beer fests, and brass bands. Some of the perpetrators and victims are in Germany again, like doctor Hartmut Hopp, who administered psychotropic drugs to the Colonia residents by force and who was sentences to five years in jail for aiding in child abuse. He lives in Krefeld, unmolested by the police. According to the lawyer organization European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, the Krefeld prosecution has all the documents from the Chilean authorities. Chile has applied for the enforcement of the verdict and the Krefeld prosecution is investigating against Hopp since 2011.
Translation: Elinor Lewy
Original title: Colonia
Deutschland / Luxemburg / Frankreich 2015, 110 min
Language: English, Spanish
Genre: Drama, Historical Film, Thriller
Director: Florian Gallenberger
Author: Florian Gallenberger, Torsten Wenzel
DOP: Kolja Brandt
Montage: Hansjörg Weißbrich
Music: André Dziezuk, Fernando Velázquez
Cast: Emma Watson, Daniel Brühl, Michael Nyqvist
- OV Original version
- OmU Original with German subtitles
- OmeU Original with English subtitles
ALLE ANGABEN OHNE GEWÄHR.
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