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Film Review: of Colonia (2015)


Colonia drops viewers into politically turbulent 1970’s Chile, with just a shallow dip into the vast ocean of this landscape before the action begins.

The story opens with a love affair between Lena (Emma Watson) and her pro-Allende German activist boyfriend Daniel, played by Daniel Bruhl. When Daniel is captured by Augusto Pinochet's secret police and taken to Colonia Dignidad, Lena sets off on a quest to find him. Posing as a religious fanatic Lena manages to infiltrate the Colony of Dignity, where she finds herself whipped, labelled a ‘slut’ and immersed in its cult like clutches. Located somewhere between a concentration camp and Jonestown, Colonia Dignidad is an oppressive and abusive community encased by an electric fence. Headed by the chilling Paul Schäfer this patriarchal, gender segregated prison becomes the foreground from which our protagonists must escape.

Emma Watson plays Lena with a quiet determination that manages to almost bridge the gaps left by her two dimensional role. Similarly, Daniel’s character is left open to the audience’s limited imagination, with no real delving into his backstory or the motivations for his actions. The premise for his survival, pretending to be a newly made ‘retard’ in Colonia, seems far reaching. Whilst the film does build tension well, it doesn't communicate comprehensively to viewers the intricacies and horrors of its setting. The last minute, tail-chasing escape is a little too dramatised to ring true and thus fall’s comfortably into the category of fictionalised sensationalism.

Though inspired by true events, Colonia fails to capture an authentic re-telling of this story and instead offers a tale of escape that seems both unimaginative and implausible. Following the tried and tested paradigm of Western heroism, such a viewpoint overshadows the core guts of its subject matter. In what can best be described as a glass half full, Colonia bestows a murky window onto this brutal chapter of history. The audience are left feeling they have been given a weightless and flimsy grasp on Paul Schäfer’s dictatorial reign. This hollywoodised version of events looks with little depth into the socio-political psychology underpinning such a community and provides a lazy account of the sufferings and abuses that occurred there. 

 Written by Josie West

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