Delving into Chile’s Dark History in Colonia

25 Apr

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By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)

Please check local listings for its limited engagements in theaters in USA and Canada.

Emma Watson must love taking on challenging roles to show her growth as an actress. In the film, Colonia, she’s a flight attendant who gets caught up in a political upheaval which took place in Santiago, Chile. The democratically elected government of Salvador Allende was overthrown by a coup d’état in 1973. The dictatorship was headed by General Augusto Pinochet. Equal parts history, romance, and thriller, just exactly what kind of film this is meant to be needs an introduction by German director and co-writer Florian Gallenberger. An inter-title with a quote from a Chilean poet would have set the tone better than witnessing two lovers crossing paths at the worst time possible in this country’s history.

Lena (Watson) is a flight attendant with a layover in a town in a state of unrest. She recognizes her social activist boyfriend, Daniel (played by Daniel Brühl), from afar and before her co-workers can protest, she promises she will be okay. However, when the people are rallying against General Augusto Pinochet, Daniel is abducted by DINA, a secret police force. Lena is recognized as an outsider and is left for the rats. After she recovers from part of her ordeal, she’s out to find her boyfriend. Her love for Dan is strong and she manages to find him. However, is she ready to unearth the rabbit hole hiding this country’s dirtiest secret?

Publically, Colonia Dignidad is said to be a mission run by a lay preacher, Paul Schäfer (terrifyingly played by Michael Nyqvist). Secretly, it’s a torture colony and this administrator has the people wrapped around his fingers. Only a few realize what’s going on and have tried to escape.

Lena wants to free Dan from the zealots but in order to do so, she must gain this group’s faith. To do so is challenging not only for the character but also this actress. Unlike past roles which put her in the position of supporting character or part of an ensemble cast (playing to a niche market of either summer blockbusters or teen) the onus is on her to sell the film. Watson is remarkable and has developed. Although the world will always remember her as the headstrong Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter films (and she does not mind), there must be a contingent wanting to see her develop beyond that character. Can she be as inspiring as either Amelia Earhart or Eva Perón (Evita)? One look at Watson’s recent activities says yes. Lena’s devotion to her man is key to this film. I’m just waiting to see her play a character like Hannah Arendt to complete her transition. The upcoming film, The Circle, looks ideal for her instead of Disney‘s upcoming live-action treatment of Beauty and the Beast. Watson is an ideal choice, and the hope is for the screenplay to provide some gravitas for her to work with.

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Nyqvist steals the show with his Rev. Henry Kane (Julian Beck, Poltergeist II) like performance. He ranks right up there with those who can effectively play creepy charismatic figures like Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds). To see these two play off each other provides the most tension. Lena is tough to break, and to see how she manages to snake out of his grasp is perhaps the most rewarding part of the film. While love conquers all to motivate her desire to achieve freedom, so does misery love company which creates Schäfer’s world.

4 Stars out of 5

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