Latin America at #TIFF15. Movies reviewed: Colonia, Desde Allá, The Clan

Posted in 1970s, 1980s, Argentina, Chile, Cultural Mining, Drama, Germany, Thriller, Venezuela by CulturalMining.com on September 26, 2015

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

TIFF featured a number of notable South American films this year, so this week, I’m going to look at three of them. Two – an escape drama and a true crime drama — are set in the south, Argentina and Chile, under their rightwing, military dictators in the 70s. And one in the north, a drama set in modern-day Venezuela.

58KWyB_colonia_02_o3_8704338_1441928352Colonia

Dir: Florian Gallenberger

It’s 1973 in Santiago Chile. Daniel (Daniel Brühl) is a German photographer who was drawn there by the excitement around the newly-elected socialist premier Salvador Allende. He is deeply in love with his girlfriend Lena (Emma Watson: Hermione in the Harry Potter series), a flight attendant for Lufthansa, who touches down regularly in Santiago. But when the government collapses with a CIA-backed military coup, the streets become dangerous.  Thousands of people – including Daniel and Lena — are herded into the Santiago Football Stadium. Some are shot on the spot, others taken away in vans.

Lena is safe, but Daniel is horribly tortured, nearly to death, by Pinochet’s forces. Afterwards, he is comforted by a strange man with long gray hair who says Daniel will be safe under his protection.

Lena takes a week off work and tracks him down to an isolated farm in central Chile known as colonia-1-first-look-will-emma-watson-be-able-to-escape-colonia-dignidadColonia Dignidad, run by a German, fundamentalist Christian cult. Her plan? To pretend to join the sect, unite with Daniel, and quickly escape Chile forever.

But she soon finds herself trapped there. It’s a strange farm surrounded by electrified barbed wire filled with people who have never seen the world outside. Men, women and children are all kept completely separated. Little boys with Hitler-youth haircuts are forced to sing angelic choir songs before the nefarious Paul Schäfer (Michael Nyqvist) – known as “Pius” —  who controls everything. The women are supervised by a stern female commandant named Gisele. By day, they pick potatoes like slaves; by night they are locked into their communal barracks. Any woman caught speaking of or even thinking about love or sex is punished at a “men’s council”, a ceremony where men are free to kick and punch accused girls or women. Lena searches for Daniel but he is nowhere to be seen. When she finally spots him, he appears to be feeble-minded from all the torture he endured. Can Lena ever contact him? Will he even recognize her? And can the two of them escape from the hell-hole known as Colonia?

Colonia Dignidad and Paul Schäfer were real. This film is actually a German movie, in English, not a South American one. If you’re looking for a political drama about Chile under Pinochet, you won’t find it here. This is more of an exciting escape drama, a prison break movie, with the politics kept low-key. Chile is the setting, with Pinochet a super villain, but it’s mainly about the notorious German settlement there. Bruhl and Watson are good as the heroes, but best of all is the realistic, slimy cult leader. I watched the whole movie without realizing he was played by Nykvist, the same actor who was the hero of the Swedish Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series!

JZWRXv_Desde_Alla_03_o3_8730120_1440509884Desde allá (From Afar)

Dir: Lorenzo Vigas

Armando (Alfredo Castro) is an odd, middle-aged man with a good income who lives alone in downtown Caracas. He has an creepy-looking job: his business is constructing and repairing dentures, inserting false teeth into intricate moulds. Occasionally, he visits his sister to talk about the horrible things their father did to them when they were growing up. What exactly happened is never said.

In his free time Armando has an unusual hobby. He approaches young, working class men on r0V6pW_Desde_Alla_04_o3_8730197_1440464747the street and offers them money in exchange for sexual favours. But the favours consist merely of Armando asking the guy to face away from him while partially undressed. That’s it.

But things start to change when he picks up an angry young man named Elder (Luis Silva). Elder is a violent, selfish thug whose father is in prison for murder. He’s the kind of guy who would lead his gang to attack his own girlfriend’s brother LgWRlv_Desde_Alla_05_o3_8730266_1440509909with steel pipes in a pool hall for no apparent reason. Despite this – and the vicious sneer permanently etched on Elder’s face – Armando approaches him on the street and hires him. But in his apartment Elder turns on him, beats him up and steals his wallet and some of his things.

Despite this (or perhaps because of this?) Armando approaches him again, not asking for his things back, but instead offering him even more money. And later — when a rival gang fights back and Elder needs a safe haven – Armando welcomes him back into his apartment. Far from being a sexual predator, Armando shies away from anynZ6P6Y_Desde_Alla_01_o3_8730049_1440509869 and all physical contact with Elder. Instead he behaves like a father-figure, teaching him moral lessons, feeding and clothing him. And the situation changes: now Elder starts feeling attached – perhaps even sexually – to Armando, who coldly turns him away. What is going on? And where will it lead?

Desde Allá is a strange and disturbing film, even more so at the end. Its shocking conclusion will make you rethink the entire movie. The acting of both the main characters is fantastic – and the film won the Golden Lion, the top prize at the Venice Film Festival.

pgLNE6_clan_05_o3_8766051_1439583560The Clan

Dir: Pablo Trapero

It’s Buenos Aeries in the late 1970s. Alejandro Pucci (Peter Lanzani) is a handsome young rugby player on the Argentinian Pumas. His father (Guillermo Francella) is a successful businessman with ties to the military regime .Alex has it all. He’s a popular student, a national sports hero and owns a surfing store in downtown Buenos Aries. And he is in love with his girlfriend. But when the military government falls they are forced to lie low. His dad is a member of the Argentinian CIA, and partly responsible for the notorious Disappeared, the countless people missing or murdered by the military junta.8qKpGm_clan_04_o3_8765985_1439583555

But the Puccis depend on these kidnappings to keep up their lifestyle and have turned it into a very profitable business. Most of the family is either involved in or aware of the kidnappings, since the victims are kept inside their home. But can any of them resist their dad’s orders?

This Argentinian drama is based on a true crime story out of Argentina that shocked the nation when it was uncovered. It’s also the most popular Argentinian movie ever.  It’s a scary, dark and gruesome story. The movie reveals the downfall of the family in the very first scenes, but for me – never having heard of this case before – I would have preferred if those scenes were left till later. Still, there is such a dramatic scene at the end of the movie that it retains its ability to shock.

Colonia, Desde allá and The Clan all played at TIFF15; keep your eye out for these films. Opening today is Toronto’s Palestine Film Festival — go to tpff.ca for details; also opening is the delightful Grandma, a comedy-drama starring Lily Tomlin as a feminist grandmother on a quest.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

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