Year Released: 2016
Directed by: Florian Gallenberger
Starring: Emma Watson, Daniel Bruhl, Michael Nygvist
(R, 110 min.)
Genre: Mystery and Suspense
“We must travel in the direction of our fear.” John Berryman
This tense South American thriller will keep you on edge until the very last moment. Which is worse, the David Koresh style commune above ground, or the torture chamber and chemical weapons below?
This film also benefits from its basis in reality, proving that truth, if not stranger, is just as interesting as fiction, without the endless subplots or twists and turns fiction write are addicted to. Other reality based excellence came from the recent Sully, which captured the psychic damage that haunts so many lauded as heroes. Or the award winning The Imitation Game about the eccentric genius who cracked the infamous Nazi Enigma Code and probably shortened World War II by 2 to 4 years. Not to mention The Theory of Everything, that exquisite film as brilliant as the mind of Stephen Hawking, the world-renowned theoretical physicist and heir to Einstein.
The setting for Colonia is Chile in 1973, right before Salvador Allende is overthrown by a military junta presided over by General Augusto Pinochet. In a supreme act of bad timing, Lena (Emma Watson), an air flight attendant for Lufthansa, uses her layover in Santiago to visit her boyfriend Daniel (Daniel Bruhl), who is an Allende advocate and activist.
And while it’s not quite as bad as an invasion of Hogwarts Academy by the faceless Dark Prince, Voldemort, Lena’s layover is almost as agonizing for the ever-stalwart Hermione/Emma Watson. Gunshots interrupt her romantic interlude, Lena and Daniel fleeing his apartment, knowing he is now an enemy of the state. Daniel not only takes his very large and visible camera with him; he foolishly decides to start shooting pictures of the street carnage not 20 feet from the officers happily gunning down civilians right and left.
We wonder if this idiot even deserves to be saved from the secret police who obviously take him away, but love is blind, and Lena decides to rescue him from the Colonia Dignitad, a religious commune that covers for a torture camp for prisons.
She journeys to that camp several hundred miles from Santiago and joins it. It is austere to say the least. While Lena and Daniel’s characters are fiction, the details of the camp are real, just having been unsealed to the public in recent years:
Details of life in the colony are hard to verify. Some visitors have described a scene from 1930s Germany, with women wearing aprons, with their hair in pigtails, and men in lederhosen.
Former political prisoners of Gen Pinochet have testified to a warren of stone-walled tunnels under the colony, where they were taken to be tortured with electric shocks to the strains of Wagner and Mozart. –Becky Brandford
Men and women live separately, as do the children, who are taken from their mothers at a few months of age. Michael Nygvist, the Swedish actor who played the investigative journalist in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the villain here, and he does a wonderful job, turning from stern manipulator to cajoling preacher in the blink of an eye.
Nyguist plays real life Paul Schafer, an ex-Nazi medic and Evangelical preacher who fled his native Germany after allegations of pedophilia. In Chile he sets up his religious commune, where we see evidence of his continued sexual aberrations. A young blond boys cries and is whisked away; later scenes show a selected trio from his child chorus being sent to shower as Schafer follows. And all the while, the chorus dutifully continues singing.
Some critics complain that the film can’t decide it if wants to be a romance or a thriller, but Lena’s devotion to Daniel as her compelling reason to engineer their escape propels the action. History tells us only 5 persons ever managed to escape Colonia Dignitad. The guards, the vicious dogs, the electrified barbed wire fences, and the mind-numbed occupants themselves do their best to keep Lena and Daniel entrapped with them. Will they make it out?
You will root for them all the way, down to the final shocking betrayal.
Lena joins the commune called Colonia Dignitad, or Colony of Dignity, which is really a cover for a brutal prison camp. There she will dress in German peasant clothing and work the fields and patiently wait for her chance to free her boyfriend who is a prisoner there.
Given the rural setting I am choosing a Chilean version of the English Shepherd’s Pie, this one with a few Latin touches. Since the colony is German based, as are the two film leads, you may want to serve this with a little side dish of sauerkraut.
Chilean Potato Pie
5 cups potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 tablespoons butter, or to taste
salt to taste
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 onion, diced
2 tomatoes, diced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 pound ground beef
2 tablespoons shredded panquehue cheese (or substitute cheese of your choice)
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley or cilantro
salt and black pepper to taste
1 pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a 2-quart baking dish.
Place the potatoes into a large pot and cover with salted water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and allow to steam dry for a minute or two. Mash the hot potatoes with butter and salt. Let cool until just warm; stir in the beaten egg until smooth.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir in the garlic and onion; cook and stir until the onion has softened and turned translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and tomato paste; continue cooking until the tomatoes soften and begin to lose their shape. Add the ground beef and cook until browned, about 10 minutes. Stir in the panquehue cheese and parsley; season to taste with salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper.
Spread half of the mashed potato mixture into the prepared baking dish. Cover with the ground beef mixture, then spread the remaining mashed potatoes over the beef to completely cover.