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Colonia Dignidad – An Experiment in Terror and Behavior Modification

Posted by E on April 18, 2016

Emma Watson Colonia

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.

Colonia movie Emma Watson

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

colonia-dignidadAlthough 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.

Colonia Dignidad Villa Baviera originalI 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.

Boris WeisfeilerI 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.

 Mothers of Plaza de Mayo Chile

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WTF is the problem with Young People F*cking?

Posted by E on June 13, 2008

As so many of you are aware, a little independent film, which may or may not have any artistic value (I haven’t seen it yet, and even if I did, my subjective opinion has no bearing on this post) has splashed into the news, solely because of its cheeky title: Young People F*cking.

Now I don’t really know anything much about it except having heard some convoluted news reports involving Canada Arts Grants and public outrage, of the sort that goes something like: “Is this what our tax dollars are going to,” yadda, yadda, yadda.

Not that I find Arts Grants judges to be much more than an inbred, pat-each-other’s-backs sort, but ask yourself this: If this title should have been called any of the titles below, would anybody in the media have batted an eye, never mind sensationalise it to such a degree that now it is receiving top billing at film fests (as the filmmakers undoubtedly intended)?
Young People Killing
Young People being raped and murdered by psycho cannibals
Young People dismembering each other
Young People blowing each other’s heads off
Young People being torn to shreds and eaten by wild dogs
Young People being murdered by eccentric millionaires in Slovakian torture chambers
Young People being disemboweled by crazy hillbillies
Young People being hunted down by serial killers at roadside stops
Young People cannibalizing each other

Well, what do you think? Would Bill C-10 approve of any of the above? Most likely, if it’s anything like the garbage being produced by Hollywood and the television industry over the last few years? So — how many of those titles I just listed sum up any of the films you might have seen over the past year or so?

Of course, all of that gory, gross stuff is nothing compared to the rather insipid, vacuous act of Young People Fucking.

Well, at least it wasn’t called Young GAY People Fucking. It wouldn’t even make it past the screening room.

Posted in canada, censorship, commentary, culture, gay, media, movie, movie review, news, political correctness, politics, rant, thoughts, violence, wtf | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Death in children’s movies: the loss of innocence as a subversive agenda in Hollywood

Posted by E on August 20, 2007

pets dog and cat

Although I don’t have children of my own, I used to be a children’s English teacher while working in Asia. I learned to enjoy watching movies with my class and discuss them as part of our conversation exercises. So while I don’t teach anymore these days, whenever I want to relax, I surf the channels for a family movie. I enjoy the simple entertainment and the lack of violence, dead bodies and forensic obsession that has infested regular television channels on a nightly basis.

So tonight, as I was going through the sparse choices for a movie on television tonight, I spotted a movie about two kids hiding a dog in their apartment. But these days, as a precaution before I watch any films involving animals, I did a cursory look-up of the title on the net; there is hardly anything I hate more than to watch something that has me emotionally-invested, only to find out the dog is run over by a car at the end.

Sure enough, a movie reviewer described being in the theatre seeing this particular movie, when a sad turn near the end had all the children in the audience sobbing. I’d heard enough, and I decided to watch something else.

But not before I wondered why Hollywood has decided to kill off all the animals in its movies. In mainstream films aimed at more mature audiences, dogs/rabbits/cats are murdered by crazy neighbours or obsessive stalkers a la Fatal Attraction. And in children’s films, even those churned out by Disney, the pets die as a lesson to children about how sad things happen in life.

I once again reflected on the sad state of “family” films these days. A happy ending has now become an oxymoron for any film involving pets. In the last year, there were only a couple of films involving animals where the poor beast was not killed: albeit they involved horses that were at some point injured or close to death (i.e. Dreamer, Seabiscuit).

Horses who have died in movies and children’s books: Phar Lap, Black Beauty, My Friend Flicka, My Pal Trigger, The Red Pony, etc.

These days, nearly every film involving a dog, fish, deer or lion results in the inevitable demise of a main character.

Isn’t childhood these days so fleeting that studios must still carry an agenda of “teaching important moral lessons” wrapped under the guise of death and sadness?

Ever since Bambi‘s mother was killed by a hunter, innocence has been a target on the chopping block of studio executives. In one film whose title escapes me, a young boy has to go shoot his ailing pet dog as a way to show that he is finally “becoming a man.” Update: the movie is Old Yeller, a childhood trauma favourite.

I am so sick and tired of the suggestion that kids will somehow learn certain important lessons from the heartache of losing a pet, whether their own or the brief attachment they make when they watch a beloved creature in a movie. There is enough trauma and sadness in this world without adults making it a point to provoke grief in the fragile psyches of young children.

If it isn’t Simba’s father, the great Mufasa in The Lion King, then it has to be Nemo’s mother and 498 brothers and sisters, eaten in the first 10 minutes. Littlefoot’s mother is killed in The Land Before Time; the Lion in Narnia sacrifices his life; 3 of the huskies in Snow Dogs are killed; in All Dogs Go to Heaven, Charlie is run over by a car; and so on, and so forth.

Other such favourite book-movie remakes include The Yearling, where Bambi and Bambi’s mother get killed off. Adding to this is the old Hollywood twist of having the young protagonist actually pick up a rifle and shoot their beloved and domesticated pet deer in the head.

In Where the Red Fern Grows, not one but two dogs bite the dust – a pair of loyal, beloved hounds who save their master’s life end up being killed off as some sort of symbolic demonstration of love and sacrifice. WTF??

Then there is Never Cry Wolf, Julie of the Wolves, and White Fang, in which all the wolf-dogs kick the bucket by the end. (Remember Snow Dogs which I mentioned earlier – which outdoes all its predecesors by killing 3 dogs at the end). So here is a general rule of thumb for you: don’t watch movies (or read books) involving huskies and the arctic. Not a good idea.

They all die at the end.

More random animal murders take place in film renditions of crappy books such as J.T. and Sounder, where the stories are just as miserable and full of torment and suffering as the ending of the poor dog himself.

Don’t even get me started with the whole let’s-kill-the-villains theme in kids’ movies: in Little Mermaid, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, the villain is always killed at the end. I think we can beat the villain or set up a situation without always killing someone.

Whatever happened to portraying happiness? Or is that too boring for film studios? I’ll take Benji any day over Lassie, where a brave little dog is shown beaten to death, and Lassie is whipped by a bad owner.

To all readers, I ask you to help me out here. Please add your comments and name any other films you know of where the animals are killed by the end: I want to compile a list of movies I would never show a child.

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Posted in animals, children, commentary, culture, death, family, innocence, movie, movie review, parents, rant, thoughts | Tagged: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

C for Courage, F for Freedom, R for Resistance – Sophie Scholl and V for Vendetta: a contrast of ideologies

Posted by E on August 7, 2007

sophie-scholl.jpgsophiescholl-film.jpg 

Nothing is so unworthy of a civilized nation as allowing itself to be governed without opposition by an irresponsible clique that has yielded to base instinct. Do not forget that every people deserves the regime it is willing to endure! Every individual human being has a claim to a useful and just state, which secures freedom of the individual as well as the good of the whole.
– from leaflets distributed by the White Rose

When I first saw the movie V for Vendetta a couple of years back, there was a striking familiarity about it, one that I just couldn’t, try as I might, put my finger on. A sensation of déjà vu, like a fleeting fragrance, echoed through my memory.
“I know this story”, I said to myself. “I have heard these words before.”
Months went by and that nagging itch just didn’t go away. I felt Vendetta tapped into a collective unconsciousness for a lot of people, myself included.

I spent my teenage years involved with revolutionary movements; I knew people who spent their lives as part of an underground of political activity. So the explosive theories of V were not exactly foreign to me; the concept of overthrowing a corrupt system was just a refrain of earlier days. Still, there was something else there.

Months later, I finally saw a film I had put off seeing for various personal reasons. The German movie Sophie Scholl – the Final Days is about the journey of two siblings involved with the covert WW2 resistance group The White Rose. The ending of that journey is betrayed by the title, and the film is a realistic glimpse (based on newly-discovered interrogation and arrest records) of only the final six days of their lives.

Sophie and her brother Hans were bright university students who came from a privileged liberal family. Prior to their political activity, Hans was a member of the Nazi party while Sophie had an active membership in the Hitler Youth. Although not covered in the film, Sophie’s disillusionment with the BDM (the girls’ wing of the HY) stemmed from her observation of others’ treatment of a Jewish friend.

Along with a number of other students from the Munich University (curiously, not much of the group’s involvement is depicted in the film), they founded The White Rose, a non-violent resistance group that lasted from June 1942 to February 1943.

This German film, the third adaptation of the story (with another Hollywood adaptation featuring Christina Ricci as Sophie coming out soon) is the most accurate rendition to date of the Scholls’ final days.
Sauce Magazine describes the story: “On Feb. 18, 1943, the siblings go to the Munich campus to stack propaganda flyers while all the other students are in class. But a janitor spies the pair, and they are quickly arrested for distributing seditionist literature. Seemingly unruffled, the clever Scholl spins such a convincing web of lies that her interrogators are prepared to let her go. But then a damning bit of evidence is discovered, and she has no recourse but to admit guilt.

What follows over the next few days is a stark and powerful interrogation-turned-debate between Scholl and her captor, Gestapo officer Robert Mohr (Alexander Held). The outcome, of course, is inevitable. But Scholl remains stalwart, refusing to give up the others in the resistance. Even Mohr respects her, and he wrestles with the convictions of her morality. He offers her a way out, pleading with her to refute her words, but she refuses and is handed over to a sham court to await her death sentence and execution.”

Noy Thrupkaew of American Prospect describes the lead character: “Julia Jentsch makes an indelible Sophie – girlish face set in nearly supernatural resolve. There are faint quavers, perhaps one cry of anguish, tears silver her lower lashes, but that is all. Sophie lies with unbelievable skill, her brain clacking away as her face betrays nothing. Finally confronted with her brother’s confession, she gives up the game, but with a fierce pride that is just as disconcerting as her cool lies.

That so much of the film centers on Sophie’s interrogation is at once thrilling and vexing – under such attack, why should Sophie reveal herself to her interrogator or to us? Sophie’s dignity falls around her like a mantle, and we are left to admire her steely composure, just as we strain to see past it. She obscures herself with lies at first, and then after her confession, engages in an ideological battle with Mohr, increasingly unnerved by her unshaken conviction. Here, the film loses some of its pitched momentum — the two seem less like three-dimensional characters than representatives in a clash of civilizations: liberal intellectual idealist versus impoverished, embittered working-class foot soldier.”

As I watched Sophie Scholl-the Final Days, I was suddenly flooded with the realization of what had bugged me all that time about V for Vendetta: as a child I had read about the White Rose and that underground group of students, and there were clear parallels between reality and fiction.

In fact, one can hardly abstain from comparing the two films. Both coming out at the same time, one being about V, a larger-than-life masked super-hero freedom-fighter who uses every means necessary to bring about social change, and assists a young woman named Evie to break from the matrix; the other about an indescript, yet real young girl with enough integrity to listen to nothing but her conscience and convictions.

V for Vendetta shows us a world of abject totalitarianism. In such a world, when enough people disappear, those who remain will come to believe that the state’s masters are truly all-powerful, capable of inflicting swift and harsh punishment if they step out of line for even an instant. Of course, many will also bow to the state because they believe that the state can protect them from all the bad things in the world. In either case, mass obedience rests not on the state’s day-to-day acts of oppression but the belief that the state has unlimited power to protect and punish.

Anything that undermines the people’s belief in the state’s omnipresence weakens the people’s acceptance of authoritarianism, and thus anything which causes the people to look at the state with less than awe must be suppressed. V for Vendetta makes this point by showing how the state regards humor at its expense as almost equally as great a threat to its’ rule as V’s attacks.

But where the summer blockbuster V for Vendetta chooses to cop out and rely on an explosive, muddled ending, the ending of Sophie Scholl can be described as steely, horrific, and visceral to the core.

There have been other reviews that compare these two films and their angles, but to me it always comes back to what kind of activism you find conscientious – non-violent resistance vs. terrorism in the name of freedom.

I will not stand here and argue that I oppose the latter without exceptions, since the label “terrorist” is often accorded to anyone who rebels against the status quo. In Eastern Europe, the revolutionaries who brought down communist dictatorships had to resort to such force and indeed were labeled terrorists. But their action in 1989 was necessary to give birth to the freedom that is now taken for granted. I have seen that freedom in the country of my birth, Romania, and it is undescribably sweet.

But after all the roads I’ve traveled on, the things I’ve seen and the people I’ve spoken to, I must confess that it isn’t a bold revolutionary act that makes an impression on me – but the quiet inner resolution that makes one individual refuse to back down.

Whether the lone Chinese man in front of the oncoming tank in Tiananmen square, the Buddhist nun arrested in Tibet, or a young girl like Sophie Scholl who distributes a secret pamphlet – the revolution is in the expression of silent dissent and integrity. The revolution lives – not in a grenade, but in the written word.

Posted in commentary, freedom, germany, life, movie, movie review, politics, revolution, sophie scholl, white rose | 3 Comments »