Wakolda (a.k.a. The German Doctor), 2013.
Written and Directed by Lucía Puenzo
Starring Àlex Brendemühl, Diego Peretti, Guillermo Pfening, Natalia Oreiro, Florencia Bado and Elena Roger.
The true story of an Argentine family who lived with Josef Mengele without knowing his true identity, and of a girl who fell in love with one of the biggest criminals of all time.
Based upon writer/director Lucia Puenzo’s novel, Wakolda is based upon the real life story of former SS Officer Josef Mengele, once known as “The Angel of Death,” during his time hiding in South America (as many war criminals did) after the war. As we are coming to the tail end of a long summer still filling the multiplexes with blockbusters of all manner, The German Doctor offers the option this week of seeing something a bit less noisy, and more considered.
Puenzo’s film opens in Patagonia in 1960. Mengele (Alex Brendemuhl) meets an Argentinian family and follows them as they travel to start a new life as Hoteliers. He stays with them at the hotel and slowly ingratiates himself on the family who are unaware who they are harbouring. In particular, Mengele finds himself fascinated with the daughter, Lilith (Florencia Bado) who having been born premature has struggled to grow and is very short for her age. Eventually Mengele convinces her mother Eva (Natalia Oreiro) to start a course of growth hormones on Lilith. She agrees, but her husband Enzo, still wary of Mengele, is unaware. Meanwhile Israel agents continue to capture war criminals in other areas, whilst still hunting Mengele. Soon enough the net begins to close around him as he continues experimenting on Lilith, and then her newborn twin brothers.
Wakolda is a beautifully shot film. It’s very restrained, and simply filmed, letting the gorgeous locations do the work, and allowing the actors to grab the screen, without need of editing or music crutches. The music in the film by Daniel Tarrab and Andres Goldstein is low key and atmospheric. Again it’s another part of the film-making that isn’t intrusive.
The cast are excellent. Brendemuhl is quietly charismatic but projects an eerie feeling of hidden darkness lurking beneath the surface. The rest of the family are very good too. Florencia Bado gives a fantastic performance for such a young age too. She’s completely invested in the role and it’s so rare at that age to be able to do that.
What the film perhaps lacks is a sense of tension and a build up to more of an impressive climax. Whether that would have broken away from the truth of the story is arguable, but for cinematic purposes there should have been a more pulsating finale. Argo as an example, also based on a true story had a nerve shredding finale. Wakolda, somewhat disappointingly after such an involving piece of film, seems to peter out.
Regardless it’s an interesting insight into how a family were charmed into letting one of the most notorious Nazi war criminals into their lives, and it’s very well made. Most definitely worth watching for history buffs and those who fancy a trip to the cinema that doesn’t involve an audience full of kids.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★