Colonia Dignidad was a notorious commune in Southern Chile with a tight relation to Pinochet’s regime methods. When 12-year-old Pablo receives a scholarship to attend school at Colonia Dignidad, which was established by German settlers, it comes as a surprise when he becomes the favourite of Uncle Paul, the leader of the colony. Pablo starts to witness strange things.
Matías Rojas Valencia chooses an interesting perspective for his mysterious drama, following almost everything through Pablo’s eyes. It becomes much clearer later on in the film why this choice was made, as things become crystal clear to Pablo why certain privileges are given to some boys in particular. Backed with classical music, Pablo’s experience in the colony goes from exciting to full on terrifying.
The story focuses mostly on Pablo’s story, but there’s another interesting though significantly smaller side plot that follows a nurse’s relationship with a worker at the camp. It becomes clear that personal growth and education beyond the basics aren’t important to the colony, to avoid an uprising I presume. They explore sexuality on their own terms, as the nurse would like to have a child of their own, reading up on intercourse through a censored children’s book on animals. All of their actions (including everyone else’s) are being monitored through hidden cameras and whenever Uncle Paul is dissatisfied with people’s behaviours, get put on full display in front of his followers like a public punishment.
Pablo discovers that not everyone has had the liberty of freedom like he had. He explains the use of traffic lights to his roommate Rudolph, who’s never left the colony. Rudolph is seen watching tv late at night in his underwear, at Uncle Paul’s quarters. It becomes clear Pablo was brought here to replace Rudolph as Paul’s sex object, as he gets favourited by Paul during a race against the other boys in the colony. A turning point within the story is definitely a scene involving Santa’s shadow, Krampus. This to scare kids into being good, resulting in public humiliation and witnessing Pablo’s strong will compared to the other terrified children.
The visuals are particularly grounded, but it’s the overall production design that elevates every scene with the atmosphere it exudes. Even with a dreamlike ending, we get to choose what really happens to Pablo in the end. But if there’s one thing we can all agree on, is that the abuse of Nazi’s after WWII in South America have scarred all those involved. With ‘A Place Called Dignity‘ Matías Rojas Valencia tells a powerful story about the terrors that still haunt a continent.
Reviewed November 21, 2021 (screener provided by publicist). Rating: TBC. Running time: 98 min.
PRODUCTION: A New Europe Film Sales release of a Quijote Films production.
CREW: Director/writer: Matías Rojas Valencia. Editing: Andrea Chignoli & Matías Rojas Valencia. Cinematography: Benjamín Echazarreta.
CAST: Hanns Zischler, David Gaete, Amalia Kassai, Salvador Insunza & Noa Westermeyer.