fiction, movies, music

Diamonds in the rough…

The other day, I was sitting on the patio drinking beer in the late afternoon sun. It occurred to me that Little Orphan Annie had a lot in common with Maria von Trapp. Both were musical theater heroines from musicals set in World War II (edited to add: Annie was set in the Great Depression— thanks to mphtheatergirl for catching the error). Both came from poverty– Annie was an orphan who lived in an orphanage, while Maria was a young novitiate at a convent. Both were spunky and friendly, as they turned the households of wealthy men upside down with their charms. Both were musical and used their musical gifts to brighten lives.

So I mentioned this on social media, and a friend who is into musicals piped up, saying her “musical theater brain just exploded”. Actually, she used an exploding emoticon to make her point. But I got the idea that she hadn’t thought about how similar the stories of Annie and Maria are kind of similar.

And now, as I sit here writing this, I realize that both of those stories also have something in common with Pretty Woman, a 1990 film that starred Julia Roberts as a woman named Vivian who went from being a prostitute to being Richard Gere’s character of Edward’s main squeeze. And Pretty Woman was kind of My Fair Lady— man turns woman from the wrong side of the tracks into something better and classier. Of course, Vivian and Annie also had red curly hair in common, and lots of spunk and positivity. Julia didn’t sing as Vivian, so I don’t know if they also had music in common.

In all of those stories, the cultured, wealthy, crotchety men are ultimately charmed by females who show them that they just need a little more love in their lives. It’s an appealing story, which is probably why it gets told in various ways so often. We all like the Cinderella story, featuring scrappy young women who climb out of adversity and onto something bigger and better. But then, each of these stories are not just about women making it on their own. They’re also about men who have a higher station, pulling them up. Maybe they would have pulled themselves up eventually, but being attached to a wealthy older man has its advantages, I guess.

She won his heart…
She won his heart…
She won his heart…
She won his heart…

So why am I writing this now? I’m not gonna lie. It’s mostly because I can’t stand to look at that screenshot from my duet video yesterday. This was something intriguing that floated through my mind a couple of days ago and I wanted to write it down. It occurred to me that a lot of formulas of popular stories are really the same story set with different characters and situations.

I first thought about how similar Annie and Pretty Woman were a few years ago, as I was watching Pretty Woman on Netflix. I listened to Vivian giving Edward a pep talk and realized that she was only supposed to stay with him for a week– just temporarily– so he could seal a business deal. Annie, likewise, was only supposed to have a week with Daddy Warbucks. He’d even wanted a boy instead of a girl. But in the course of a few days, both of these characters had won over their wealthy male benefactors in a heartwarming Cinderella story in which they live happily ever after. Maria von Trapp, likewise, was supposed to be a temporary governess for Captain von Trapp’s seven children. She ends up charming everyone, despite being annoying to the captain at first. And Eliza Doolittle, initially annoyed with her Cockney accent, manages to win over Henry Higgins as she catches on to what he’s trying to teach her and becomes a beautiful young lady… a diamond in the rough, just like Vivian the prostitute, Annie the orphan, and Maria the nun in training.

Isn’t that interesting? Maybe I should log off and watch some of these warm and fuzzy movies today. In a matter of days, we’ll probably be emerging from our house, at long last. I might not have the time or inclination to hang out watching movies a week from now…

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movies

I watched 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days again yesterday… it reminded me of why legalized abortion is important.

Yesterday’s reposts made me want to watch a Romanian movie I’ve seen a couple of times already. I have discovered that Romania has put out some truly excellent films, even though I have to watch them with subtitles. But I’ve seen several now, and have even purchased a few for my library. The first time I had ever seen the film I saw yesterday, entitled 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, it was a random Netflix DVD I rented some years ago. The first time I saw it, I was astonished by the movie, which was made in 2007.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is set in an unnamed university town in Romania during the year 1987. Communism is still alive and well in Eastern Europe. Nicolae Ceaușescu is the president of the country, and rules it with an iron fist. In 1987 era Romania, Ceaușescu has forbidden abortions in almost every case. Contraception is also forbidden, and women are forced to visit gynecologists regularly to check for pregnancies. Viewers hear that rule referred to as Otilia talks about when she had her last period. However, even though abortion is punishable by years in a prison cell, women still access it by way of enlisting the services of illegal abortionists. Otherwise, they may find themselves raising children they can’t afford. In the 1990s, Romania was notorious for the number of babies it had in orphanages. Many of those babies grew up to be unable to assimilate in society because they were never properly socialized or cared for when they were infants. And some were born with diseases like AIDS. Women in Ceausescu’s era were expected to have children– at times, up to four or five of them– so that Ceausescu’s regime would always be supplied with fresh souls. It didn’t matter that there wasn’t enough available to support all of those babies being born into his regime.

A trailer for Four Months, Three Weeks, and Two Days…

Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) and Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) are roommates at the university in the unnamed Romanian town. They share a drab dormitory room on a co-ed hall. Gabita is pregnant. She’s shy, and seems to need looking after by Otilia, who seems to be more of a motherly type. Otilia takes care of her roommate, buying her soap and cigarettes from the campus shop, and bringing milk powder to a friend who has found kittens in the dorm’s boiler room. She’d like to take one, but Gabita is allergic to cats.

Gabita complains about a toothache, while Otilia tells her she’ll survive until after Saturday, when they’ve done the deed. The abortionist, a man named Viorel Bede (Vlad Ivanov) has given explicit instructions to Gabita on booking a room at one of two hotels in town. He has also told her what to bring with her. However, Gabita fails to get a room in the right hotel. Otilia ends up booking a much more expensive room at a different hotel. She deals with the unfriendly receptionist at Bede’s preferred hotel, who tells her the rooms are completely booked. Otilia also meets Bede, in Gabita’s stead, which makes him very nervous as he explains that if the authorities ever find out what they are doing, all three of them will go to prison.

At the hotel– the one Bede didn’t prefer– they’ve all left their identification with the front desk. They are told to leave the room key when they go out. The decor is strictly 1987, complete with primitive looking rotary dial phones. I had one in my first Armenian apartment that looked just like the one used in this film. Bede examines Gabita, realizing that she’s much further along in her pregnancy than she had told him. He explains that he will have to do a different procedure that will cost more. Since the women don’t have enough money to pay Bede, he says both women must have sex with him to make up the difference. When they balk at that idea, Bede reminds them that he’s not the one who needs help.

Otilia goes first, and we see her come into the bathroom afterwards, naked from the waist down as she climbs into the bathtub, looking wan and sick as she hoses herself off. Gabita has neglected to bring the plastic sheet Bede told her to bring, so she must cut a plastic bag and use it to protect the bed as Bede performs the abortion. After he’s finished, Bede gives Gabita instructions. He tells her to be very careful of infection, and if one should develop and she needs to see a doctor, not to deny having been pregnant. Lying about the pregnancy is a surefire way to land in prison, while claiming she didn’t know may result in the authorities looking the other way.

While Gabita waits, lying perfectly still and waiting for the fetus to die, Otilia visits her boyfriend and his family, who are having a party. Otilia is not in a good mood and doesn’t want to visit her boyfriend or hang out with his family. She’s just been through something horrific. But she can’t tell him about it. After staying just long enough to be polite, Otilia leaves. Her boyfriend is confused and upset when Otilia goes, but Otilia must get back to her friend. She’s a motherly sort, and concerned that Gabita needs her.

When Otilia arrives at the hotel, Gabita is covered up, sound asleep in bed. Otilia wakes her and Gabita says she got “rid” of it. Otilia finds the tiny, bloody, fetus lying on the bathroom floor. I will warn that this is not an easy scene to watch, and it lasts about fifteen seconds. Otilia is horrified by the sight of the dead fetus, but Gabita just seems relieved that the abortion is over. Gabita still asks her friend to bury the fetus for her, and Otilia obliges. She comes back to find Gabita in the restaurant, “starving”. There’s a wedding going on, so the food in the restaurant is what was being served at the wedding. Otilia is completely sickened by what she and her friend have been through… and Gabita, who had been the one to have the abortion, just seems numb.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is an interesting film for so many reasons. First off, it’s set in a time that wasn’t that long ago, but seems like it was ages ago. I was fifteen years old in 1987, and at that time, it seemed like communism would go on forever. Ceausescu was still very much in charge of Romania, and the threat of prison for abortion was very real. No one could know that in just two years, the Ceausescu regime would suddenly fall with the bang of the guns used to execute both Ceausescu and his wife, Elena.

Although this film is set in 1987, it’s still a useful subject for the present time. Today, in 2021, there are still people trying to stop women from having abortions. Governor Greg Abbott, of Texas, just signed a “heartbeat law”, which bans abortion for any woman who is more than six weeks along in her pregnancy. I find it interesting that a man who presides over a state that is very proud of its record on executing people on death row is claiming that Texas is a “pro-life” state. I also find it interesting that when a fetus is in utero, a heartbeat is a signal of life, whereas in people who have been born already, it takes brainwaves to prove life. But I digress. Texas’s new law allows private citizens to sue abortion providers who offer services to anyone more than six weeks pregnant, in which the fetus has a detectable heartbeat. The person suing would not have to have a connection to the person who had an abortion to sue.

There was a time in the United States when women who wanted to have an abortion had to sneak around and find someone like Bede to do the job. There’s no telling how many of those women were also coerced into providing sexual favors, too. I think about all of the heartbreaking situations a pregnant person might find themselves in that would make them want to seek to terminate a pregnancy. I think of how many of those situations are simply no one else’s business at all… actually, I would say that 100% of those situations are no one else’s business. But we still have so many politicians– many of them men, who will never have to deal with the consequences of an unintended pregnancy– trying to push these laws that will victimize women and endanger their health. And so many of these same politicians don’t want to do a damned thing for those babies, once they’ve been born.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is not an easy film to watch. It’s entirely in Romanian, so you have to pay attention to the film if you don’t know the language. The setting is bleak; there is no musical score; and the subject matter is depressing. However, I think it’s a very powerful film. Regardless of what I think of abortion on a personal level, I believe that people who want them will be determined to get them. They will put themselves at great risk and contribute to criminal behavior. And the babies born that survive botched abortion attempts may end up being a burden to society. Perhaps most importantly, the women who have money will still be able to have safe, legal abortions and will access them. Poor women– the one’s least able to support raising a child– will be the ones who suffer the most under this legislation. They will be the ones who might find themselves in the hellish situation Otilia and Gabita were in, as a man who provides abortions demands sexual favors from them before he does the procedure in less than hygienic and safe surroundings.

A link to the full movie.

I would recommend 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days to anyone who is interested in Romanian cinema. But I would also recommend it to those who need a reminder of why it’s best to let pregnant people make decisions for themselves, whether or not they wish to continue gestating fetuses. But if you do choose to watch this film, be prepared for the heavy emotional message. It’s definitely not a cheerful film, despite its powerful and necessary message. In any case, this story is one that reminds me of why I will always be in favor of contraceptives and legalized abortion.

Incidentally, since abortion and contraception have become legal in Romania, the number of women seeking abortions has gone down exponentially.

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movies, videos

Repost: A review of the film, Never Let Me Go

Here’s another repost, this time of a movie review I wrote in 2018, as we were about to move from Stuttgart to Wiesbaden. I stumbled across this intriguing film a few years ago and have been thinking about it a lot lately. I’m reposting it as/is.

It’s not so often that I watch movies these days, though sometimes I will search Netflix for something to kill a couple of hours.  Yesterday, I stumbled across a 2010 film called Never Let Me Go.  This British movie, which stars Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightly, and Andrew Garfield, is based on a 2005 Japanese novel by the same name which was written by Kazuo Ishiguro.  The plot is very dystopian, which fits right in with my recent attraction to The Handmaid’s Tale.

As the film begins, we see a couple of captions explaining that medical science has progressed to the point at which people can live beyond 100 years.  All of the maladies that plagued previous generations have been vanquished and humans are enjoying a level of health they never had in the past.  

Then we see young woman who introduces herself as Kathy H.  She’s looking through a window at a young man on an operating table as she explains that she’s been a “carer” for nine years.  She says she’s good at her job and prevents agitation in her patients.  The expression on her face is one of deep concern as the young man on the operating table looks at her.  Then, suddenly, it’s 1978 and Kathy is at an idyllic looking boarding school with many other children, all dressed in drab gray.  They sing an opening hymn before assembly.

A matronly looking woman addresses the children and admonishes them about how important it is that they keep themselves healthy.  She says three spent cigarettes were found and that even though smoking is not healthy for anyone, it’s especially a bad habit for these special children, who have never left the grounds of their school.  The woman then tells the children that Miss Emily will be collecting art samples from the children.  The best ones will go in her special gallery.

Kathy has two friends, Ruth and Tommy.  Kathy likes Tommy and he likes her, although he has a very short temper.  The two of them grow up, never venturing beyond the gates of their school.  Children who have left the grounds uniformly end up dead.  Tommy and Ruth ended up a couple, which guts Kathy.  

A new teacher named Miss Lucy wonders why the children just blindly accept the stories they hear.  She doesn’t seem to know about the school or its purpose, but she’s kind and loving to the children… until the day she tells them their real reason for being.  These children are all clones and the whole reason they were born is to donate organs to other people.  They will donate two, three, or even four times before their lives will end… while they are still young.  But they are told that if they can prove they’ve found love, they will be given a few years together.

In 1985, the children have turned 18 and are left to their own devices.  They’re even allowed to take day trips.  It’s then that Tommy, Ruth, and Kathy become more aware of their love triangle and what it might mean for them in the future, which stops in 1994.

I am going to stop writing at this point, because I think this is a film worth seeing… and if I explain the whole plot, there would be no reason to watch this movie.  I’m glad I watched it, for the story left me thinking.  I told Bill about it last night and he agrees that it’s just the kind of movie he adores.

A trailer for Never Let Me Go.
Another trailer for Never Let Me Go.

This movie is very poignant and a bit depressing, but ultimately kind of a beautiful story.  I probably should spend more time watching foreign films on Netflix.  I’ve found some good ones there.

Meanwhile, I continue to keep looking for a new place to live, which is stressing me out a bit.  I know it will eventually be okay, but the process of moving is such a huge pain in the ass.  I take heart in knowing that in a few months, this process will be a memory.

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movies, nostalgia, YouTube

Watching Gulag– anti Soviet propaganda thirty-six years later…

Yesterday’s post about “The Red Scare” inspired me to watch a movie I haven’t seen in years. I grew up at a time when everyone talked about the possibility of nuclear war with the Soviet Union. That fear was referenced in a lot of pop culture in the 80s.

In early 1985, the Cold War was in full swing.  I was twelve years old and acutely aware of the threat of nuclear war.  There were many books, TV plots, and movies about the hostilities between the United States and the former Soviet Union.  I was fascinated by it, though I lacked the ability to do a lot of reading about the Soviet Union.  I didn’t have Internet, nor did I have a library card until I was about fourteen.  What I did have in those days was HBO.  When I was growing up, a lot of my world centered around what was on HBO.

Back in the 80s, there was no shortage of films depicting how nasty the Soviet people were.  We had Red Dawn, which was about the United States being invaded by Russians and Cubans.  I watched film that I don’t know how many times.  It thrilled twelve year old me, even to the point at which I felt pretty strongly that I would join the military if the Russians ever invaded.  I think that was also one of the very first movies to have a PG-13 rating.  Since I was twelve, I thought it was “neato” that I got to see Red Dawn, even if I’d been watching R rated movies on HBO since I was about eight.

We had Born American,  a strange film by Renny Harlin that came out in 1986.  It was about three foolish guys on vacation in Finland who decide to cross into the Soviet Union just as some village girl is being raped and slaughtered by a local priest.  The guys get blamed for her rape and murder and end up in a hellish prison where humans are playing a bizarre chess game.

There was 1985’s White Nights, a film notably starring Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines.  Baryshnikov’s character was a famous ballet dancer who had defected to the United States and ended up back in Russia after a plane crash.  There, he meets Hines’ character, an American who grew disenchanted with the United States after Vietnam and ended up marrying a Russian.  They form an unlikely partnership, dance a lot, and escape to the West.

And there was also Gulag, a film that was made for Home Box Office.  It starred David Keith (of An Officer and a Gentleman and The Lords of Discipline fame) and Malcom McDowell, a Brit who has been in a shitload of films.  I remember seeing Gulag on HBO not long after it premiered.  I was probably too young to be watching it.  Having seen it on YouTube yesterday, I know I was too young.  It was actually a pretty scary film.

Gulag is the fictional story of Mickey Almon, a track star and Olympian who has been hired by a television network to cover sports in Moscow.  He and his wife are enjoying Soviet hospitality, although Mickey is a bit of an ugly American.  He’s loud, obnoxious, arrogant, and has a false sense of superiority for being from the United States.

At the beginning of the film, Almon runs into a Russian man who claims to be a scientist and asks him to take his story back to the United States.  The man promises that if Almon helps him, he’ll win the Nobel Peace Prize.  Almon is perplexed.  He’s not in the Soviet Union to help anyone.  He’s there to do a job.  But the guy’s request is compelling and as an American with a hero complex, Almon feels compelled to take action.  Naturally, he soon finds himself in serious trouble with the police.  Turns out the “scientist” is really a member of the KGB who has set Almon up to be a political pawn.

Next thing Mickey Almon knows, he’s locked in a filthy cell reeking of raw sewage.  The Russians demand that he sign a confession to spying.  Almon refuses for months and keeps going back to the rotten cell.  He’s forced to wear the same uniform for months, not allowed to shower, and grows a heavy beard.  One day, the guards tell him his wife has come.  They let him shower and give him fresh clothes.  Just when he thinks he’s going to see his wife, they bring back the putrid uniform and demand that he put it back on.

The prospect of wearing the filthy uniform and going back to the disgusting cell is too much for Mickey.   He finally breaks.  He’s been promised that if he confesses and makes a video for the Soviets, he’ll be deported back to the United States.  Of course, the promise of going home turns out to be a lie.  Pretty soon, Mickey is wrestled onto a crowded train with a bunch of other prisoners.  That’s when Almon learns he’s not going to the airport.  He’s destined for a ten year sentence at a gulag in Siberia.  Almon puts on a brave show, swearing at the guards and refusing to cower.  But eventually, Mickey Almon determines that he must take things into his own hands.  No one is going to rescue him.  He either has to stand the brutal, inhuman conditions, or find some way to escape.

As I was watching this film yesterday, I couldn’t help but realize that if Mickey Almon had actually been arrested in Moscow in the 80s, he would not have done ten years in a Soviet gulag.  The Soviet Union fell apart in 1991.  But in the 80s, we had no idea that it was going to fall apart.   In those days, the Soviet Union was a massive superpower and it was perceived to be a huge threat to the United States.  There was a lot of talk about who was going to “push the red button”.

Since I remember the 80s so clearly and they don’t seem like they were really that long ago, this film still gave me the willies.  And yet, just ten years after Gulag was released, I went to the former Soviet Union to live for two years.  I quickly found out that Soviets… Armenians, anyway… were just normal folks like everybody else.  Yes, the lifestyle there was different than what I was used to, but at their core, people living in what used to be Soviet Armenia were just people who wanted the best for themselves and their loved ones.  And I happened to be there at a time when their country was going through extreme turmoil due to the fall of the Soviet Union.

Another thing I noticed was that the film looked “old”.  I mean, I remember watching movies from the 60s and 70s when I was a child and thinking they looked dated.  I had that same experience yesterday.  1985 really was 36 years ago!  To put that in perspective, it would be the same as me watching a film in 1985 that was made in 1949.  1949 in the 1980s sure did seem like it was ages ago.  Hell, that was back before my parents were married.  The upshot is that now I feel ancient.

Actually, I’ve been going through a bit of a mid life crisis lately, so it probably wasn’t the best idea to watch this film.  It really does seem like yesterday that I was a teenager.  Now I’m about to turn 49 and I feel like there’s a lot I haven’t yet done.  I have never had a “real” career.  I don’t have children.  I have a great marriage and I’m grateful for that, but I think it’s mainly because I found an unusually patient guy who has already survived the wife from hell.  Anything I do seems to be very small potatoes to him.

I still have a few Armenian friends.  I wonder what they would think of Gulag and the other American made propaganda films.  I am sure they’ve seen their share of anti-American propaganda, too.  I kind of wish I’d had the chance to talk to some of them in person about it back when I saw them on a daily basis.

Anyway, if you’re curious, here’s a link to Gulag, which also has helpful Polish subtitles.  Enjoy!

Here’s the film, Gulag, which aired on HBO all the time in the 80s! It’s the only film, besides An Officer and a Gentleman I have ever seen David Keith in. What’s weird is that I have twin cousins who look a lot like David Keith. Every time I see him, I think of them.
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movies, politics, religion

Colonia– how a 2015 movie helped me understand a Sting song from 1987.

Yesterday, after writing my second and mostly original rant, I decided to watch a movie. iTunes has a bunch of them on sale, so I often look to see what I can get cheaply. A lot of times, I get films I’ve already seen a bunch of times– guilty pleasures that never get old. Every once in awhile, I find a movie I haven’t heard of, but I’m intrigued by the description. Colonia, a 2015 film that was mostly made by Germans, Brits, Frenchies, and Luxembourgers, was one of those films I hadn’t heard of, but got sucked into because of the description. Plus, it only cost me $4.99 to buy it, although at this writing, someone has uploaded the whole film to YouTube.

A trailer for the film, Colonia.

The plot

It’s 1973, and Lena (Emma Watson), a German flight attendant for Lufthansa, and her German boyfriend, Daniel (Daniel Brühl), are in Chile at a time of political unrest. The Chilean president, socialist Salvador Allende, has been forced out of power due to a military coup. Allende would die on September 11, 1973, as the government was taken over by General Augusto Pinochet. Pinochet would seize power from civilians, suspend the constitution, and impose martial law.

Daniel supports former President Allende and has given speeches to Chileans. Pinochet’s secret police, Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (DINA), rounds up people who are loyal to the deposed president. Daniel gets abducted by DINA. Lena decides to track him down, eventually finding out that he is being held by a secret organization called Colonia Dignidad, which turns out to be a religious cult run by a German lay preacher named Paul Schäfer (played by the late Michael Nyqvist). Against the advice of wiser people, who warn her that if she joined the cult, she will not be able to escape it, Lena decides to join Colonia Dignidad in an attempt to find her boyfriend.

The UK Trailer for Colonia.

Lena does find Daniel, who has been tortured with electric shocks and acts as if he’s disabled in order to escape scrutiny. But she’s abused by the leaders of the cult, to include a vile old woman named Gisela (Richenda Carey) who calls the women “cunts” and forces them to work without food or water. The couple befriend a nurse named Ursel, who is pregnant. They try to escape the compound, which is a heavily guarded fortress. Ursel is killed, but Daniel and Lena manage to get to the West German embassy, where they are betrayed. However, against the odds, they manage to leave the country with incriminating photographs of Colonia Dignidad, as the Lufthansa pilot takes off without official clearance from flight controllers, and spirits the couple back to Germany.

Paul Schäfer

Adding to this film’s intrigue is the story of Paul Schäfer. If you read this blog regularly, you might know that I find religious cults fascinating. I think a lot of them are just plain evil. Paul Schäfer was born in Bonn in 1921. Due to an accident with a fork, he lost his right eye. He later told people that he lost his eye due to a war injury during World War II; as Schäfer did serve as a medic in a German hospital in occupied France. Later, he was influenced by the American Baptist preacher, William M. Branham, who also influenced Jim Jones. Branham advocated a strict adherence to the Bible, which Schäfer also demanded of his followers.

Schäfer became a lay preacher and opened a children’s home in Siegburg, but was later run out of Germany because he was accused of molesting two boys in his care. Schäfer subsequently relocated his ministry to the Middle East, where he met the Chilean ambassador to Germany, who invited him to Chile. By 1961, Schäfer had moved to Chile, where his cult took root. The Chilean president at the time, Jorge Alessandri, granted him permission to launch the “Dignidad Beneficent Society” on a farm outside of Parral, in southern Chile. The society, which was founded on Baptist principles and anti-communism, eventually turned into Colonia Dignidad– the place where Daniel and Lena ended up in the film, Colonia.

The character, Paul Schäfer, appears just after Daniel has been tortured with electric shocks. Daniel is shown strapped to a metal bed frame, naked except for his underwear. As Daniel recovers from being beaten and repeatedly shocked, Schäfer shows up and comforts him, hugging him and speaking soothingly to him. As a viewer, I am led to believe this is how the cult leader gets Daniel into the compound, where he and the rest of the followers are forced to work. Males and females are kept apart, and children are separated. Although it’s not explicitly shown in the film, it’s implied that Schäfer molests boys. Indeed, the real Paul Schäfer was found to have molested hundreds of boys over his forty years leading the cult. But Schäfer colluded with the Pinochet regime, arranging to smuggle in weapons from Germany, since shipments bound for his ministry were never inspected by customs because they were for a “charity”.

Schäfer also conducted torture and took care of executions for the Pinochet regime, as he also ran a hospital. After a hunting accident, which required Schäfer to undergo medical care at a hospital in Santiago for months, Schäfer came back to his fortress and forbade all festivities. In 1966, a teenager named Wolfgang Kneese managed to escape the fortress and spoke to the press. Schäfer got another teenager, name of Hartmut Hopp, to accuse Kneese of sexual misconduct. Hopp was rewarded by Schäfer, who allowed him to study medicine. Hopp served as a physician in the hospital; he also prescribed sedatives for Schäfer, who would use them to subdue his victims, boys he raped who were sent to his colony.

In real life, Schäfer duped locals into following him until he finally lost favor when Pinochet stepped down in 1990. The next leader, Patricio Aylwin, stripped Schäfer’s ministry of its charity status and cut off funding for Schäfer’s hospital. In 1997, Schäfer disappeared, as he was up on child sexual abuse charges. He was tried in absentia in 2004, and found guilty. Schäfer was also wanted in Germany and France, having also been accused of child abuse in both countries. In March 2005, Schäfer was finally found hiding out in a townhouse in a gated community about 25 miles from Buenos Aires, Argentina. He was arrested and sent back to Chile. In 2006, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison for sexually abusing 25 children. He was also fined 770 million pesos, which was to have been distributed to his victims. He died on April 24, 2010 at age 88 of heart failure.

Lena gets verbally abused.

I wish Colonia had gone more into detail about Paul Schäfer. In fact, I think they should make a movie about him, to show how a charismatic man who preaches about Christianity can turn out to be pure evil. In the film, Schäfer is explicitly shown abusing women– forcing them to listen to a boy soprano sing “Ave Maria” in front of a room full of angry men. Schäfer would make a woman sit alone in front of the men, then viciously debase her in front of the men, who would grow more hostile until they were driven to attack her. He would sniff her, calling her a harlot and a slut. He forced the women to bind their breasts. The child abuse was sort of alluded to, but in the film he appears to have been a misogynist, more than anything else.

My thoughts

Before yesterday, I knew nothing at all about Chilean politics. In fact, the only thing I knew about Augusto Pinochet was that his name is in an old song by Sting. His song, “They Dance Alone (Cueca Solo)”, was on the 1987 album, Nothing Like the Sun, which was released when I was fifteen years old and in the tenth grade. I didn’t know anything about American politics in 1987, let alone what was going on in Chile. But now that I’ve seen Colonia and was curious enough to learn more about the film, that song makes a lot more sense.

Gee… now I know what this song is about.

They Dance Alone by Sting

Why are there women here dancing on their own?
Why is there this sadness in their eyes?
Why are the soldiers here
Their faces fixed like stone?
I can’t see what it is that they despise

They’re dancing with the missing
They’re dancing with the dead
They dance with the invisible ones
Their anguish is unsaid
They’re dancing with their fathers
They’re dancing with their sons
They’re dancing with their husbands
They dance alone They dance alone

It’s the only form of protest they’re allowed
I’ve seen their silent faces scream so loud
If they were to speak these words they’d go missing too
Another woman on a torture table what else can they do
They’re dancing with the missing
They’re dancing with the dead
They dance with the invisible ones
Their anguish is unsaid
They’re dancing with their fathers
They’re dancing with their sons
They’re dancing with their husbands
They dance alone They dance alone

One day we’ll dance on their graves
One day we’ll sing our freedom
One day we’ll laugh in our joy
And we’ll dance
One day we’ll dance on their graves
One day we’ll sing our freedom
One day we’ll laugh in our joy
And we’ll dance

Ellas danzan con los desaparecidos
Ellas danzan con los muertos
Ellas danzan con amores invisibles
Ellas danzan con silenciosa angustia
Danzan con sus padres
Danzan con sus hijos
Danzan con sus esposos
Ellas danzan solas
Danzan solas

Hey Mr. Pinochet
You’ve sown a bitter crop
It’s foreign money that supports you
One day the money’s going to stop
No wages for your torturers
No budget for your guns
Can you think of your own mother
Dancing with her invisible son
They’re dancing with the missing
They’re dancing with the dead
They dance with the invisible ones
Their anguish is unsaid
They’re dancing with their fathers
They’re dancing with their sons
They’re dancing with their husbands
They dance alone
They dance alone

Turns out Sting was right. Mr. Pinochet left power just a few years after this song was released.

But anyway… while I think Colonia could have been a better film, and it was really just based on true events, it did lead me to learn more about Chilean politics. And now, I finally have more of an understanding of what “They Dance Alone” is about. I may or may not be moved to learn more about this subject, which isn’t a bad accomplishment for a film. A lot of people gave Colonia bad reviews, but I think if a movie inspires someone to do research, it’s done something pretty amazing. So, for that reason, I can’t pan it. I do think it’s kind of misleading, though, and I think it would have been a better story if the focus had been more on Schäfer, rather than Daniel and Lena. Also, bear in mind that a lot of the movie was filmed in Europe, with only a few scenes filmed in Argentina.

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