The Chile coup and Pinochet’s “Christian” torture chamber in “Colonia”

ZÜRICH,Switzerland – German director Florian Gallenberger’s Colonia is arguably this year’s Zürich Film Festival’s hardest-hitting film. Lena (Emma Watson, Hermione in the Harry Potterseries) and Daniel (Barcelona-born Daniel Brühl, who has appeared in numerous politically-minded features) are Westerners ensnared in the U.S.-backed 1973 coup d’état in Chile. The horrific events are chillingly depicted in news clips of democratically elected leftist Pres. Salvador Allende and harrowing dramatizations based on actual events.

Lena and Daniel end up in Colonia, a remote, supposedly devout Christian compound run by fanatic Paul Schäfer (Michael Nyqvist, co-star of the 2009 Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), one of those Germans who ended up in South America after World War II. This overzealous settlement puts the “mental” into fundamentalist, as the gender-separated flock performs slave labor, suffer beatings and subsist in prison-like conditions.

It turns out that Colonia is actually a front for Gen. Pinochet’s repressive regime. Beneath the “Christian” colony are a series of tunnels and torture chambers, where political prisoners are tormented by the fascistic henchmen of Pinochet – who is depicted onscreen visiting Colonia. Colonia is reminiscent of Costa-Gavras’ 1982 Chile coup classic Missing and the 2015 Bolivia and Chile-set Olvidados – although it is arguably more terrifying, as the demented Schäfer was convicted of serial sexual abuse of children.

Colonia notes, however, thatnobody was ever convicted of the crimes against humanity perpetrated by Pinochet’s torturers at Colonia. Ironically, this exposé of Pinochet’s reactionary regime is a production of 20th Century Fox – Rupert Murdoch’s studio.

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Ed Rampell
Ed Rampell

Film historian and critic Ed Rampell was named after CBS broadcaster Edward R. Murrow because of his TV exposes of Sen. Joe McCarthy. Rampell majored in cinema at New York's Hunter College. After graduating, he lived in Tahiti, Samoa, Hawaii, and Micronesia, where he reported on the nuclear-free and independent Pacific movement for "20/20," Reuters, AP, Radio Australia, Newsweek, etc. He went on to co-write "The Finger" column for New Times L.A. and has written for many other publications, including Variety, Mother Jones, The Nation, Islands, L.A. Times, L.A. Daily News, Written By, The Progressive, The Guardian, The Financial Times, and AlterNet.

Rampell appears in the 2005 Australian documentary "Hula Girls, Imagining Paradise." He co-authored two books on Pacific Island politics, as well as two film histories: "Made In Paradise, Hollywood's Films of Hawaii and the South Seas" and "Pearl Harbor in the Movies." Rampell is the author of "Progressive Hollywood, A People's Film History of the United States." He is a co-founder of the James Agee Cinema Circle and one of L.A.'s most prolific film/theatre/opera reviewers.