German director Florian Gallenberger isn’t isn’t new to a dramatisation. Giving us City of War: The Story of John Rabe, the biographical true story of a German businessman who saved more than 200,000 Chinese during the Nanjing massacre between 1937-38, his next feature doesn’t centre on quite an angelical figure however.
Paul Schäfer resides in both Latin America and German history, though not for anything good. Known for his sexual abuse cases against children before redesigning himself as a supreme megalomaniac and dictator of the Colonia Dignidad, a colony formed in an isolated area outside the city of Parral. Surrounded by barbed wire and weary eyes, the cult group residing in Colonia were radicals though advertised merely as “eccentrics”, where activities including sexual abuse, weapon sales and money laundering occurred frequently under the watchful eye of their looming leader.
Gallenberger’s seemingly true life biopic doesn’t entirely focus on its villain, more so a fictional couple entangled in the backdrop of a Chilean military coup where Daniel (Daniel Bruhl) is uncovered for his protesting for deposed President Salvador Allende and forced into the confines of the Colonia Dignidad under General Augusto Pinochet’s command where unlawful experiments are forced upon him. Desperate to find him, girlfriend Lena (Emma Watson) uncovers the whereabouts of the cult and infiltrates it as a willing servant to preacher Paul Schäfer. She soon finds out that this charitable mission is nothing of the sort, and nobody ever leaves Colonia Dignidad alive.
Haunting, bleak and often hard to watch, the heavily misogynist behaviour of this appalling institution parallels everything wrong with Schäfer’s ideals. Colonia Dignidad’s very own Hitler, the perplexing actions of the leader and his followers are beyond comparison. It doesn’t, however, prove cinematically indifferent to any other of its kind, with the most enticing aspect of Gallenberger’s depiction is the fictional couple that the events surround.
Watson’s time in the Wizarding World has done her well; the source of The Colony‘s desperation and plea to survive. Carried entirely through the eyes of an innocent, the plight is uncompromising and often uncomfortable but executed with zeal and grit. Bruhl, surviving his torture by faking disability infiltrates the organisation and attempts photographic evidence to bring down the place from the helm, for escaping is truly the only option. It’s often gripping stuff, but again nothing that doesn’t culminate rather predictably.
Gallenberger attempts to splice Hollywood thriller and disturbing biopic. Whilst the facts are there and are harrowing enough to understand the victim’s abuse and constant torment, The Colony‘s intentions are shallow and sometimes inept. Devoid of naturalism, it harbours on the fictional rather than factual far too often. We’re to believe that overall only five people managed to escape this establishment during the time it was known, but Watson’s character is freely accepted from the outside and automatically evolves from air steward to undercover agent?
It does its job but cheaply so. Advertised as true life when in fact it plays more of a thriller based on part truth, carried effortlessly by Watson’s genuine performance.
Dir: Florian Gallenberger
Scr: Torsten Wenzel, Florian Gallenberger
Cast: Emma Watson, Daniel Bruhl, Michael Nyqvist
Prd: Benjamin Herrmann, Nicolas Steil
Music: André Dziezuk, Mike J. Newport
DOP: Kolja Brandt
Runtime: 110 minutes
The Colony is available now on Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital Download