The Colony


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

The Colony
"The film does entertain, even excite at times, but it never creates a sustained atmosphere of dread."

The titular colony is somewhere in the wildernesses of Pinochet's Chile. The camp is home to an organised group with religious trappings, leading a life of simple segregation. A life dedicated to purity, to routine, to the outsourced torture of political dissidents.

This will come, later. To start we have Lena (Emma Watson) and Daniel (Daniel Bruhl). She is a Lufthansa aircrewmember - in that 707 era yellow uniform before the jet age succumbed to oil shock. He is an agitator, an aid to the Allende cause, a propagandist with some skill behind the camera and at the paste-up table. It's the 1970s, and period detail abounds: chunky fabrics, some artificial; air-cooled engines in rickety minibuses; cameras that require not only film but manual winding; the brutal destruction of socialist regimes by military coups.

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In the brief, whimsical moments of abandon before, and the short, brutal moments of armageddon during, Colony is somewhat captivating. Once its protagonists are ensnared, however, it starts to drag, to disappoint, to let down its cast. Watson and Bruhl will be much more familiar to fans of much bigger franchises, and they are not well served. The script has its moments, aided in part by a structural bravery, but this is not as gripping as anyone involved would hope.

The central pair are good, but there's not quite enough to explain the mixture of abandon and determination that impels the acts that draw them both to Colonia Dignidad. There they fall under the sway of Michael Nyqvist (most famously of the Millennium trilogy), the charismatic cult-leader. Schafer has constructed a paradise: Men live apart from women. Women work the fields. Children live apart from parents. People live apart from sin. Beatings, and worse, are the consequences of disobedience. Men hunt those who try to escape. Women are summoned to meetings for judgement. Everyone is given a pill before bed-time. Visits from the president, and worse, are the rewards of obedience.

A debut for writer Torsten Wenzel, the first feature in six years for Oscar winner Florian Gallenberger (2001, Best Live-Action Short, but you knew that), this has a surprisingly international cast for what is at heart quite a small film. A couple torn apart, re-united in jeopardy, trying to escape. That the film is brave enough to jump days, weeks, months into the future with a title card is a strength, but it's less compelling than in, say, A Hijacking. The depredations of life under fascism are better explored elsewhere, and for jet-age escapism (either sense) there are better alternatives.

The film does entertain, even excite at times, but it never creates a sustained atmosphere of dread and though one could argue that a flattening of affect might well be a consequence of incarceration within such a regime it is disappointing that it is felt by the audience rather than depicted upon the screen. The look of the film appears to be aiming for a particular grittiness, but visual choices occasionally let down good practical work in set dressing and costuming. The film draws power from the fact that the sect were real, and stories from the survivors are compelling - despite an end sequence that includes historical photographs The Colony is never able to borrow that revelatory power.

Reviewed on: 01 Jul 2016
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A woman's search for her abducted boyfriend finds herself drawn into an infamous sect.
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Director: Florian Gallenberger

Writer: Torsten Wenzel, Florian Gallenberger

Starring: Emma Watson, Daniel Brühl, Michael Nyqvist, Richenda Carey, Vicky Krieps, Jeanne Werner, Julian Ovenden, August Zirner, Martin Wuttke, Nicolás Barsoff, Steve Karier, Stefan Merki, Lucila Gandolfo, Johannes Allmayer, Gilles Soeder

Year: 2015

Runtime: 110 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Germany, Luxembourg, France


EIFF 2016

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