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

Ed Rampell is an L.A.-based film historian/critic and co-organizer of the 70th Anniversary Commemoration of the Hollywood Blacklist.