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.

Standard
disasters

Is it me, or does it seem like Noah’s Ark these days?

Today’s featured photo is a screenshot of a public domain photo of “Noah’s Ark”, painted by the American folk painter Edward Hicks in 1846.

Maybe this is a simplistic thought. I probably ought to flesh it out some more before I write about this subject, especially since I am no Biblical scholar. What I remember about the Noah’s Ark story is that God decided there was too much violence and awfulness in the world and he was going to destroy it with a great flood. But he liked Noah, so he decided to spare him, his family, and all of the world’s animals. He had Noah build an Ark to his specifications.

Noah and his family, as well as pairs of animals and their mates, all boarded the great Ark and were saved from the great flood that destroyed everything else. After 150 days, the floods stopped and Noah, his family, and the animals all came to land on Mount Ararat… special to me, because it’s in what was once Armenia and is now Turkey. There’s more to the story, of course, and if you’d like a pop version of it, just listen to “Rock Steady” by Sting.

I’ve always liked this song. Clever songwriting by Sting.

As I sit here reading the news about Hurricane Laura about to make landfall in the United States, as people are grappling with COVID-19, wildfires in California, watching Trump’s insanity at the Republican National Convention, and worrying about joblessness, potential evictions, racially motivated riots, and no school for kids, I’m reminded of the Noah’s Ark story. It’s almost like everything is being thrown at us to see what sticks.

I don’t know if there is a God, or if God has anything to do with the disasters that have occurred in 2020 so far, but it sure does seem like hellfire is about to rain down. But then, I’m probably thinking this because I was born in a relatively peaceful and prosperous time in history. Yes, the Vietnam War was going on when I came around in 1972, but after that, it didn’t seem so bad. Or maybe I was just shielded from the news better. That’s probably it.

I don’t remember any other leaders as horrible and toxic as Trump has been… I truly do fear for what may come if voters don’t get their shit together in November. I also don’t remember the weather being nearly as weird and destructive thirty or forty years ago, and although I did live through the AIDS epidemic, that wasn’t a disease that spread through the air like COVID-19 does.

So far, we’ve been fortunate enough to live in areas that haven’t been horribly affected by most of the disasters that are hitting the world right now. I’m not arrogant enough to think that God likes us. I think we’ve just been really lucky so far. Even as I write this, I hear the winds outside whistling. I think the weather is about to change in Germany, too.

Growing up in Virginia and living a significant portion of my life in the southeastern United States, I have experienced my fill of hurricanes. So far, I’ve always managed to be in places that haven’t been badly hit. Even in April 2011, when a tornado ripped through Sanford, North Carolina (where we lived at the time), and then traveled 200 miles northeast, hit my hometown of Gloucester, Virginia, and destroyed where I went to “intermediate” school, we were not horribly affected. We saw the tornado and heard it, but it didn’t damage the home we lived in at the time. However, it did strike the Lowe’s hardware store and decimated homes about a quarter of a mile away.

On my old blog, I wrote about how a little girl in Gloucester’s life might have actually been saved by that tornado. She was badly abused and neglected by her parents, who had two other children, one who was a healthy baby and the other who had died and was buried on their property. The little girl was probably days from death herself, but her parents had taken the opportunity to loot when the tornado destroyed homes. They had tried to pawn a gold bullion they stole, and a police officer came to their trailer to speak to them. He saw the little girl, emaciated, covered in feces, and sitting under an upturned crib that had been fashioned into a makeshift jail cell.

The little girl, aged six, was extremely malnourished and small for her age. She was saved and eventually adopted, although she may not ever fully recover from her ordeal. Her parents are now in prison. I guess that’s one more example of how good things can happen even in the worst situations. I’m sure there are similar stories coming out of today’s disasters…

I guess I have to repost that blog entry about the little girl now. It was a good one. Anyway, stay safe out there in this era of disasters. I’d like to hope there isn’t going to be a great flood that wipes out civilization, but we certainly do seem to be living in “interesting” times.

Standard