Although it stated at the beginning of the film that it was based on real life events my initial thoughts while watching the movie was that what I was experiencing on screen was too far fetched to be true. Then during the end credits we were shown actual pictures of Colonia Dignidad followed by director and co writer Florian Gallenberger stepping up to explain that this place really did exist and was still in existence today, admittedly a milder version designed to attract tourist’s and was now called Villa Baviera.
The movie is based on the real life events that took place in the Colony which was run from 1961 by an ex Nazi preacher Paul Schafer who was attributed by his followers to have spoken the word of God (credibly portrayed by Michael Nyqvist who played Mikael Blomkvist in the Dragon Trilogy) and located in a remote part of Chile. At the time it had 300 residents mainly Germans who were said to be fundamentalist Christians with men and women living mainly segregated lives behind high barbed wire fences, watch towers and spotlights. This authoritarian regime ran all elements of its member’s lives, even regulating the birth of children who as it turned out were open to sexual abuse; later Schafer was actually charged with sexual abuse of children and sent to prison. Other criminal activities were discovered which included weapon sales and money laundering.
When Pinochet’s Chilean coup, backed by the USA, deposed the democratic President of Chile Salvador Allende in 1973 it put the country under military rule for years. Reprisals followed against Allende supporters and this is where Gallenbergers film begins. A German activist Daniel (Daniel Bruhl) who has been campaigning for Allende is joined in Chile by his air stewardess girlfriend Lena (Emma Watson) for a four-day break between Lufthansa flights. After her arrival the coup takes place and both Daniel and Lena get arrested. While Lena gets released Daniel is identified as the artist behind pro Allende posters and is taken away.
|The results of Pinochet's military coup.|
We find out that Paul Schafer is collaborated with the military regime and provides a warren of tunnels under the remote pseudo religious camp were dissidents of the regime are tortured and killed. It’s in these tunnels that Daniel finds himself. Daniels brain function is affected following a long period of horrendous torture sessions and he’s put to work in the camps smithy carrying out menial tasks. Lena finds out where he is held and decides to join the commune with the intention of rescuing her brain dead boyfriend.
The main purpose of this well-intentioned film is to expose the terrible goings on that took place at Colonia Dignidad both above and below ground and the 40 year long complicity and protection offered by Chile’s German Embassy, remembering that the right wing German state had close ties with Pinochet and his brutal regime, believing that they were supporting the fight against communism. To this end the director of The Colony (2015) succeeds and gives us the added bonus of an exciting and fast moving thriller. As usual in a lot of modern films the villain gets the best lines and for this reason the movie is always better when Michael Nyqvist is on screen.
Florian Gallenberger told the audience at the 2016 Edinburgh International Film Festival where the film was receiving its UK premiere that he knew about the existence of the camp since he was a child in Germany but it was not until much later that he realised the true nature of the colony. It took him four years to research the story and during that time won the trust of the camps inmates also getting sight of the archives that were finally released well after the 30-year limit. He also explained that he did have a nightmare raising the money for the film because of its subject matter. Also casting initially gave him problems but he did not explain. Asked why he did not go into more detail about the child abuse that was associated with Schafer and other members of the commune he said that he deliberately underplayed both the torture scenes and the child abuse because he wanted to open the film to a wider audience and not put people off of seeing it. The 30000-acre colony is now open as a tourist attraction but this legitimacy can hide its legacy. The original members now in there ninety’s have been offered treatment but most have refused and do not want to leave the commune. Its problematic for those who were the young abused who still have great problems living in normal society. Most of the younger members who avoided the abuse have managed to live normal lives. Even after Schafer left others took over and carried on his cruel and abusive teachings. Not surprisingly Chile still struggles with this episode of its history.