Pinochet’s thugs are the least of Emma Watson and Daniel Brühl’s problems as they relive the bad old days of the 1973 coup in Chile
Part political thriller, part torrid love story, Colonia follows Lena, a young Lufthansa stewardess, as she visits her lover Daniel in Santiago on the eve of Pinochet’s putsch. Caught in the crossfire, Daniel, an ardent supporter of Socialist president Allende, is picked up for photographing atrocities and interred at Colonia Dignidad, an isolated, heavily fortified compound run by a Christian fundamentalist sect of German immigrants which moonlights as a torture center, arms manufacturer and biological agent lab for the regime. Determined to get her man back, Lena exchanges her trendy clothes for matronly wear and infiltrates the colony, spending months undercover, not knowing whether Daniel is unharmed or even alive. When he finally does surface – feigning mental disability after electroshock torture – their only obstacle is how to escape.
With a fictitious plot based firmly in fact, Oscar-winning writer/director Florian Gallenberger (Best live action short, 2001) occasionally stretches suspension of disbelief in his attempt to recast history as entertainment. While not quite as bombastic as standard Hollywood fare, this European production nonetheless holds its own, buoyed by solid performances. Daniel Brühl is credible both as a naive activist and a damaged torture victim, and Emma Watson’s nuanced portrayal of steely resolve shining through fear should banish any lingering doubts concerning her acting abilities. Michael Nyqvist, known for the original Swedish Millennium trilogy, outshines them both however – truly terrifying as the messianic, soft-spoken, sadistic, and manipulative cult leader Paul Schäfer (finally apprehended in 2005 and convicted on 25 counts of child molestation). Whether he’s casually offering “interrogation” pointers to secret policemen or whipping his flock into a misogynist frenzy with quiet fury, he is easily the scariest villain to shuffle about in a beige cardigan.