German director Florian Gallenberger helms a clumsy film centred on a horrendous and largely unknown chapter of Chilean history. Set in 1973, Lena (Watson) joins her English-speaking German boyfriend Daniel (Brühl) in English-speaking Chile a few days before the Pinochet coup. He is identified as a leftist militant and sent to the secluded prison camp Colonia Dignidad, run by the despotic Peter Schafer (a mullet-sporting Nyqvist). Lena decides to join the pseudo-religious cult from which no one has ever escaped in order to break her partner out.
The cast do their best with a frustrating script, brimming with genre clichés and laughably bad dialogue. Brühl in particular is doubly burdened with having to play a “retard” in order to survive inside the sect and struggling to create some believable chemistry with a staggeringly wooden Watson.
Sadly, nothing can save Colonia from the director’s mainstream approach; it is well-intentioned but undermines the material, especially with the last third in which the film becomes a cross between an episode of Prison Break and the final act of (the far superior) Argo. A shame, since this genuinely fascinating story deserved a less obvious, more thoughtful treatment.
Colonia | Directed by Florian Gallenberger (Germany, Luxembourg 2015) with Emma Watson, Daniel Brühl and Michael Nyqvist. Starts February 18