Colonia (2015)

© Majestic / Ricardo Vaz Palma
© Majestic / Ricardo Vaz Palma
Directed by Florian Gallenberger

Colonia is quick to inform viewers at the beginning that it is inspired by true events. It excerpts footage from Patricio Guzman's documentary, The Battle of Chile, which provides the backdrop for its pair of European lovers, played by Emma Watson and Daniel Brühl, caught in the upheaval of the 1973 military coup. The film tries to capture this violent time leading to the rise to power of Augusto Pinochet, and proceeds to contain the couple in an isolated community in central Chile called Colonia Dignidad, a German sect founded by an abusive religious leader. It is a place of torture, violence, and cruelty for women and children, and Colonia takes its time to show these atrocities. There is virtue in shedding light on this watershed event. The problem, however, lies in how the film appears to trivialize it, that by putting the predicament of its couple at the center, it ends up placing merely in the background this critical moment in history that claimed thousands of lives.

More than the accuracy and sensitivity, Colonia aspires for gripping theater, how from start to end the director Florian Gallenberger makes it look and feel cinematic, how the conflicts and resolutions are designed to build up and lead to a climax in which the viewers are taken for a white-knuckle ride. The binary oppositions are plainly presented: man and woman, good and evil, freedom and prison, violence and submission — and despite hinging on real life, the caricature is easy to recognize. The linearity of storytelling offers standard suspense, and the last sequence in particular recalls the breathtaking, final moments of Argo, another film loosely based on true events. Colonia takes on a material that requires maturity and subtlety and ends up removing its cultural significance and relevance in exchange for entertainment. If that has been the goal, that much is fulfilled.

by Richard Bolisay