If you’re planning to see the new Emma Watson film Colonia, please don’t watch the trailer first. Punctuated by the groan-inducing line “When they took her man”, this has to be one of the worst trailers I’ve ever seen. Its weakness resides in the fact that they take an empowered, arguably feminist main character and make her out to look like a desperate flower, someone who cannot survive unless she finds “her man”. But since I’ve just told you not to think of a pink elephant and piqued your curiosity, here’s the trailer so you can see for yourself:
Hollywood is no stranger to using contrived romances that push the boundaries of cheese in order to serve up an important social or political event as backdrop. Think the fictitious, ill-fated romance of Jack and Rose to showcase the spectacular sinkability of the most unsinkable ships of all, the Titanic. But there’s a fine line between using romance to build up a film and gratuitous humping, and that line was blurred for the first 12 minutes of Colonia, as Lena and Daniel went at each other worse than the cats in heat outside my place at night. Fighting against the urge to hurl a glass of cold water at the screen and shout “Break it up already!”, I gritted my teeth and stuck it out. (Am I showing my age here or what?) Oh, and to all of you asking on YouTube if Emma gets nude in this flick, sorry to disappoint.
It took a while for the movie to get better. It didn’t help that the main characters’ downfall begins with a series of utterly idiotic moves. Hey – there’s a violent riot outside! Let me grab my camera, run right up to cops in combat gear and shoot photos of them beating up people! No way are they going to kick my head in or beat up my girlfriend! Oh, and just keep standing in the front row at prisoner roll-call when the wiser move would be to blend at the back of the crowd and hope you won’t get noticed, especially since you’re a political activist and agitator.
But alas, after the lovebirds (or cats in heat, depending on your perspective) get separated, Emma Watson’s Lena sacrifices herself by travelling to Colonia Dignidad in an attempt to infiltrate them. Note: I’m not spoiling the movie here since the trailer basically gives it all away.
Without any solid proof that her boyfriend is still alive or even at Colonia anymore, Lena stays for an unbelievable 130 days working slave labour in scorching fields, spending long days without any water, being beaten up by a matronly, sadistic female camp guard. By then, anybody in their right mind would’ve left already or at least made serious attempts to fly that coop. Instead, Lena purposefully – or shall I say masochistically – manoeuvres to get beaten up (and potentially murdered) at the men’s gathering in a fleeting attempt to see if Daniel is among them.
OK, so reading this far in my review you might think I really hated it, but you’d be wrong. In truth, Colonia isn’t bad at all (though it had potential to be even better). Its strength lies in the second half, the part that is based on fact rather than fiction – when the full horror of the camp begins to unfold. The brainwashed residents, the hard labour, the dirndls and Eva Braun-type of bun-braids, the children wearing lederhosen who are separated and isolated from their families and grow up not knowing who their parents are.
This was a gripping film with amazing cinematography and a very effective build-up of tension. These days, you practically have to make a deal with the devil in order to shine a spotlight on an issue everybody would otherwise have ignored – the devil in this case being the Harry Potter brand incarnated in Emma Watson, who I should say did a great job with what she was given. The harrowing ending was particularly intense and well-executed.
I’ve always believed that the true mark of a good movie is the lasting impression it has on you – how long it stays in your mind after you’ve left the theatre. Also, that it should teach you something you didn’t know before. This movie checks both these all-important boxes: it lingers with you as well as makes you think and want to learn more, which makes it a success.
I am grateful that it got made, despite the contrived love story and the fact that these days you can’t make a film about an important issue or historical event without the backing of a Hollywood A-lister. In this day and age, being a “celebrity” (i.e. someone who reads lines written by others and performs on cue, like a trained seal) has more weight than the scientists silently toiling away in labs across the world to discover the cure for cancer or dementia. But I digress.
THE TRUE STORY BEHIND THE FILM
Although I’m fairly familiar with the history of the ex-Nazi diaspora and the communities they established across South America, particularly in Argentina and Brazil, I hadn’t heard about Colonia Dignidad before I watched the film. Now called Villa Baviera (Bavarian Village), in its heyday (and under the leadership of Nazi psychopath Paul Schafer) it was home to hundreds of residents. The 137 km property was surrounded by barbed wire fences, searchlights and a watchtower, and was full of weapon caches and explosives, serving as an impromptu prison for political dissidents brought there by Augusto Pinochet‘s DINA, the Chilean Secret Police.
My immediate thoughts after the movie (and my gut impression) was that there had to be more to Colonia Dignidad beyond providing a means for ex-Luftwaffe officer Paul Schafer‘s cold-blooded sadism and his sexual abuse of children. I know Wikipedia says it’s considered to be a cult of some sort, but this was (and possibly still is) more than just a cult.
Certainly this is evident in the German government’s tacit approval of Schafer’s methodologies, his connections with people high up in the German embassy, as well as deep roots within Pinochet’s secret police. A man who is simply an egomaniac pedophile wouldn’t have this sort of clout. No, there had to be much more to this place for him to get away with all that he did.
It seems to me that Colonia was both a continuation of the concentration camp model, as well as an experiment in behaviour modification – both at the macro and the micro level. Prisoners were brought in and were never seen again. It’s clear that torture happened, but given the cultish obedience and knee-jerk reflex of fear instilled in the residents, the colony may have been a living laboratory in mind control.
I don’t like to throw words like “mind control” around lightly, because there are far too many nutcases and conspiracy theorists like the folks who hang out on Godlike Productions and think a secret brotherhood of shape-shifting reptiles rules the world. The term “mind control” is synonymous with all sorts of crazy, despite the fact that there’s no denying the truth behind Operation Paperclip and the experiments that were carried out both in the West and behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War years.
Don’t believe me? You don’t have to – both the CIA and Simon Wiesenthal have presented evidence that shows Josef Mengele had resided at the colony for some time in the 1960s. Mengele was just one of several other high-profile Nazis to have stayed there, the other being Martin Bormann, once the highest ranking Nazi in the world after Adolf Hitler. According to historian Ladislas Farago, Bormann lived for a period of time in seclusion at Colonia Dignidad, having “sought a place where he could be at peace.”
There is something sinister about Colonia Dignidad that leads me to believe this was a place where behavior modification experiments happened, if only because the doctrine was rooted in brainwashing of its residents and because medications were often administered, along with severe forms of punishment. But it was also connected with the disappearance of political prisoners who were transported there and were never seen again.
I think there is more than meets the eye because of the length of time – decades – that Schafer and his goons were able to operate with immunity. Even after Boris Weisfeiler, a Russian-born American mathematician, disappeared and was believed to be murdered by Colonia residents, it took until 2012 (and after Schafer’s death) for a judge to call an indictment against eight retired cops and others involved with the disappearance.
And just one month before the movie Colonia was released, Weisfeiler’s case was deemed a “common crime” whose statute of limitations had passed, and was officially closed.
It’s not difficult to speculate as to the reason why.
Pinochet ruled as dictator of Chile until 1990, but remained the army’s Commander-in-Chief until 1998. The 1970s, 80s and 90s were not that long ago. Many of the officers involved in Pinochet’s regime are well-established men now, men whose power likely still extends all the way up to Chile’s current government. Clearly, there are too many who might have something to lose if the facts behind Colonia Dignidad come out, and they will do everything in their power to sweep the truth under the carpet.
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