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Seen at 2013 Cannes Film Festival, section "Un Certain Regard"
Movie "Wakolda" challenges possible escape of Nazi physician Josef Mengele (Alex Brendemühl) to Bariloche, Argentina, in 1960, after being successfully in hiding for over a decade in Buenos Aires. On the road he meets an Argentinian family and becomes fascinated with their daughter Lilith (Florencia Bado) who was born premature and thus has smaller body for her age. Upon their arrival to Bariloche, Mengele, going by name Helmut Gregor, becomes a guest of family's lodging house. With permission of mother Eva (Natalia Oreiro) and behind father's Enzo (Diego Peretti) back, Mengele starts to treat Lilith with growth hormones, which reopens his fascination with pure Aryan race...
The movie has exceptional score, cinematography and direction, almost fully shot in Bariloche's exteriors. The story develops into psychological thriller and suspense especially in moments where the family has no idea who the stranger in their house truly is, but spectators are fully aware of his true nature. Director Puenzo managed to incorporate into her movie elements of Nazi fascination by local community, mystery of genetic research and innocence of young Lilith who feels privileged to get stranger's attention.
Alex Brendemühl is chilling as the "Angel of Death", while Florencia Bado gives solid performance, especially being it her first movie role. Natalia Oreiro, Diego Peretti and Elena Roger manage to capture essence of their diverse characters and have on-screen moments with stunning performances. Oreiro convincingly portrays a mother who submits her child to hormone experimentation believing it to be the only option to help Lilith as she blames herself for having her prematurely.
The movie is multilayer and touches topics of Argentinian history that is not known to many. "Wakolda" is certainly an extraordinary movie experience.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The original title of The German Doctor (and its source novel) is
Wakolda. That's the name of little Lillith's (Florencia Bado) favourite
doll, with a hole where its heart should be. When she drops the doll
it's picked up and returned by the mysterious stranger, who turns out
to be the sadistic Nazi scientist Dr. Josef Mengele (Alex Brendemuhl),
operating under an assumed name. From that moment Mengele insinuates
himself into Lillith's life and on into her parents'. The undersized
girl and the empty doll attract Mengele's suspect interest, ostensibly
out of compassion but really under cold detachment.
The doll image is central. Lillith's father Enzo (Diego Peretti) is a meticulous one-of-a- kind doll maker who eventually gives Wakolda a mechanical heart. He also gives Lillith and her two brothers via mother Eva (Natalia Orero), true new sibling twins. Over Enzo's objections Eva lets Mengele treat Lillith's stunted growth and she takes his pregnancy prescriptions. At the twins' struggling birth Enzo is torn between wanting to banish the dangerous doctor and needing him to save them. In the end, after Mengele escapes the Mossad to Uraguay, he has branded the twins. One is normal, "the control"; the other struggles in Mengele's heartless experiment.
When Mengele finances the mass production of Enzo's beautiful dolls he has several motives. One is to ingratiate himself yet further in the household, so he can continue his furtive and open measurements and experiments. His given excuse is "I love beauty." But he is fascinated by "the harmony of imperfections." The racks of porcelain dolls are more ominous than beautiful. They suggest an army of Aryan uniformity. In the piles of doll parts about to be assembled we are reminded of the images of concentration camp corpses. Both are Mengele's factories.
Like any film set in some "then" the implicit pertinence is the "now." In 1960 Patagonia the German school remains passionately Nazi. When classmates beat up Lillith's friend for uncovering a buried cache of Nazi materials, the victim boy is expelled for belligerence. Lillith, born premature, is bullied and tormented for being short for her age. The archivist and photographer Nora (Elena Roger), an undercover agent who calls Mossad to arrest Mengele, is reported found dead in the snow the day after his escape. The film points ahead to both Argentina's Dirty War and the contemporary resurgence of anti-Semitism not just in Europe but on North American campuses.
And of course, Mengele is only rumoured to have died by drowning. Wherever science proceeds blinded to humanity by a heartless curiosity the spirit of the Angel of Death survives. Those supermen who styled themselves Sonnenman, sun folk, were rather demons of the dark. For medicine, science, any branch of human learning, is like our last sense of those twins: possibly healthy, possibly deadly. The question always is: does the favourite have a heart? For more see www.yacowar.blogspot.com.
more than a movie , it is an experience. a special puzzle from many historical details and a thriller who seduce at whole. because all is at perfect place - the acting, the script, the music. and the cold feeling about the evil essence. a remarkable film for the smart use of past shadows. and for the manner to explore each. Alex Brendemuhl does one of his great roles as one of post war legends. Natalia Oreira is far by soap opera classic circle. and the landscapes are ideal tool to suggest, to define the atmosphere. a movie for reflection. because its message remains universal. and it seems be more and more important. against forgetting. and as brilliant example of precise movie about past stains.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is one of the best movies I've seen in quite a while. Although the
Argentinian family in the movie is fictitious, there is much truth
about the movie. It takes place in and around the city of San Carlos de
Bariloche (aka simply Bariloche) in Argentinian Patagonia.
Bariloche had a large contingent of German immigrants long before World War II and it was a recognized haven for Nazi war criminals after the War. It is also one of the most beautiful parts of Argentina known for its snow-capped mountains and Lake Nahuel Huapi, all of which are splendidly shown in the movie. There was even a rumor floating around at one time that Adolf Hitler and his mistress/wife, Eva Braun, lived there after the War.
The Angel of Death is of course the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele (1911-1979?), chief SS staff physician at the notorious Auschwitz-Birkenau labor/death camp from early 1943 to early 1945. What makes Mengele so heinous were his genetic experiments, particularly on twins and dwarfs. He was also involved in making the decision at the camp as to who would be used for labor and who would be sent to the gas chamber and certain death. Reading even a bit about his life will quickly convince you he was a true psychopath.
The movie opens in 1960. Mengele (Àlex Brendemühl)―known by his pseudonym Helmut Gregor―is traveling to Bariloche along a lone, unpaved road where he encounters an Argentinian family: Enzo (Diego Peretti), Eva (Natalia Oreiro), Lilith (Florencia Bado), and their teenage son. Gregor/Mengele notices that Lilith, twelve, is very short for her age. Although he is very friendly with her, you can see the wheels turning in his head that she would make an excellent subject for one of his experiments. BTW Bado in her first film role does an outstanding job portraying the intelligent, but vulnerable, Lilith.
Even at this early stage Enzo subconsciously picks up on Gregor/Mengele as a threat to his family, but since he has nothing overt to go on, lets Gregor/Mengele follow him on the unpaved road toward Bariloche. Eva is of German descent but born in Argentina. She has learned German at a private school in Bariloche run by Germans for German Argentinians. The family plans to restore a resort hotel and Gregor/Mengele volunteers to become their first paying guest. Soon he is injecting hormones into Lilith with Eva's consent in an attempt to make her grow. This is despite Enzo warning Eva that she is specifically not to let Gregor/Mengele perform any experiments on Lilith without his consent. Eva is also pregnant with twins and soon lets Gregor/Mengele begin experimenting with her preborn children. Lilith becomes a student at the private school in Bariloche that her mother attended. She is befriended by a young photographer there, Nora Eldoc (Elena Roger). Eldoc recognizes Gregor as Mengele, confronts him, and shows the evidence of his experiments on Lilith and the twins. Eldoc has also reported his whereabouts, making it necessary for him to flee Argentina. For this he tells her in effect she will soon be murdered.
The story ends with Eva realizing what a horrible mistake she has made by allowing Gregor/Mengele to treat her while pregnant and to treat Lilith. One of her twins is born with bad health from Gregor/Mengele's genetic/hormonal experimentation and Lilith may suffer from the injection of too much growth hormone for the rest of her life. At the very end we see a small seaplane flying off to Paraguay carrying Gregor/Mengele escaping the long arm of Mossad. The next day Eldoc is discovered in a cave in the mountains, dead, just as Gregor/Mengele has insinuated.
Nora Eldoc was a real person who was an undercover Israeli agent in Bariloche who was murdered as described above. Although fictitious, the movie is supported by a solid bed of facts. There are subtleties in the movie I have neglected in order to keep this review manageable―such as the significance of the porcelain dolls, Gregor/Mengele's detailed notes of his experiments and his fascination with measurement, the abject respect many of the German Argentinians display towards Gregor/Mengele, and Eva's conflicts with Enzo. The acting's outstanding as is the cinematography. Written and directed by Lucía Puenzo.
This movie ought to win some awards. I saw it at Laemmle's Playhouse 7 in Pasadena, California USA. The theater was not very crowded. Unfortunately this movie will probably not attract a large audience. This is a real shame because it really should be seen. And it should be seen because Mengele was a monster in reality and he truly existed. And he truly and habitually did the things that the movie depicts him doing. That such a person can really exist should be a lot more frightening than vampires and zombies.
A stranger, with a foreign accent, asks if he can follow a family on
the road towards the South. The father agrees, though everyone look at
him warily. Everyone but Lilith, the 12 year-old girl who looks 8,
fascinated by this man fixing his gaze on her.
Lucia Puenzo is known for exploring difficult and unusual relationships, and this particular feature makes her movies quite appealing. Add to that, beautiful landscapes, solid directing and you've got one of the best thrillers of 2013.
Also interesting to see, the way South America coped with ex-NSDAP members and how they continued to live and work amidst general indifference.
Some things seem like never ending, and as such this movie truly acts like a spell.
Just saw one of the most compelling movies I have seen in quite a long time. "The German Doctor". It has the beautiful scenery of Bariloche Argentina shot throughout and some of the best acting I have seen in years along with a compelling musical score. It's basic plot deals with Mengele, perhaps one of the greatest villains to have survived the fall of the Nazi empire. He travels into Argentina and ingratiates himself with an Argentine family of Germany ethnicity. The role played by the doctor is both chilling and fascinating. Mengele comes across at first as a benevolent force, but soon we develop the insight not only as to who this person is, but how casually he dehumanizes everyone to meet his own terms of science and beauty. Pay special attention to the symbolism of dolls and their "sameness". The acting is exquisite, with Florencia Bado who conveys the innocence of a young girl who trusts "the German Doctor" as well as Natalia Oriero and Diego Peretti. There is no gruesome violence in this movie, no "action sequence", no CGI, no bad language, no nudity. Only the chilling suspense and dialogue of an evil passing itself as benevolence. The stark winter landscape and beautiful forests of that region are known to me and they were captured in a magnificent way. I cannot recommend this movie enough.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Last weekend my husband and I went to see the movie "The German
Doctor". The film is set in Argentina in the early 1960's and is based
on true events. I am both a film buff and a history buff so the film
was right up my alley.
After World War 2 there were many Nazi war criminals that fled to South America to escape prosecution for their crimes against humanity. One of them was Josef Mengele, who had done human experimentation at Auschwitz during the holocaust and was known as the "angel of death".
In the film an Argentine family is traveling to the Patagonia region of Argentina to reopen a family hotel. As they travel they meet a German doctor who befriends them. Although the father of the family is never really keen on the doctor the mother and daughter do take a liking to him. Once the family reaches their destination it is clear there is something not quite right about the doctor. The daughter was born prematurely and has always been the smallest girl her age. The doctor promises that growth hormones that have been used on cows could help the girl catch up to her peers. Is he trying to help or his he just experimenting on this poor Argentine girl for the sake of experimenting?
What is interesting about the film is seeing the close relationship between Argentina and Germany. I already know about the Nazi's that escaped there after World War 2 but I hadn't really thought about the connection during or before the war. That connection becomes obvious early in the film when the mother is talking about how she went to the German school in Patagonia when she was a child. She is looking at some old pictures and in the background is the Nazi flag. It was a shocking image but it made sense. When somebody takes a foreign language class the classroom usually has flags and pictures of countries that speak that language. Why would a German school in Argentina in the 1930s or 1940s be any different? It also made me really understand that there had to already be Nazi sympathizers in Argentina during the Holocaust who would have been willing to help the Nazi's escape after the war.
The acting is good and I enjoyed the film switching back and forth from Spanish to German. I thought the movie would be an intense thriller but in the end the film was more creepy than scary. Still, it was a good film worth seeing. I think it is important for Americans to understand the history of other parts of the world. The film has gotten a very limited release so if it isn't in theater near you be sure to check it out on video.
For more movie reviews check out my blog http://jeremyochsgonzales.wordpress.com/
Entertaining and suspenseful thriller about Joseph Mengele and a good
family , starring an excellent plethora of actors as Àlex Brendemühl,
Diego Peretti, Guillermo Pfening, Natalia Oreiro, Florencia Bado and
Elena Roger and being Argentina's submission for the Oscar for best
foreign language film . Based on Lucia Puenzo's readable novel , and
also filmmaker , this is an exciting thriller about The Doctor "Joseph
Méngüele", (Àlex Brendemühl) known member of the Nazi party German, and
cruel doctor of the concentration camp of Auschwitz ; concerning in the
years he spent "hiding", along with many other Nazi's, in South America
following his escape from Germany . He escaped and pursued by the
Mossad took refuge in Paraguay and Brazil after the fall of the Third
Reich as many war criminals did after the war . There in South America
get together a group of young people , militants of the Third Reich, to
work in strange issues in which he can proceed their repugnant
experiments on genetic engineering and twins . As the subtle veil of
horror draped over things we take for granted as good and wonderful
aspects of humanity is deeply unsettling . Mengele attempts to
reconstitute the Nazi movement from his sanctuary cloning of boys'
genes and carrying out terrible practices ; in fact , at that time
cloning was on initial developing . As his clammy presence returns to
the big screen with this Argentine drama based on the true story of a
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 . Patagonia, 1960 . A German doctor (Alex Brendemühl) meets an
Argentinean family and follows them on a long desert road to Bariloche
, arriving in a small town where the family will be starting a new life
, there they run a hotel in the icy boondocks , but 'once a Nazi
scumbag, always a Nazi scumbag', and soon Mengele's back pursuing his
interest in eugenics on the youngest member of the clan . As Eva
(Natalia Oreiro), Enzo (Diego Peretti) and their three children welcome
the doctor into their inherited hotel and entrust their young daughter,
Lilith (Florencia Bado) . Lilith (played by the newcomer Florencia
Bado) is remarkably small for her age, and is often the victim of much
teasing at school as a result. However there appears to be a cure for
her lack of growth , as the local German doctor . Soon Mengele is
living in the lakeside hotel the family operates, investing in dad
Enzo's custom doll-making business, and making medical suggestions for
how undersized Lilith who looks like an eight-year-old and is teased
at school as a "dwarf" might jump start her growth and kick-start her
delayed adolescence . Wakolda is the name of our 12 year old
protagonist's doll, and is therefore emblematic of her innocence, which
is far more poignant. Meanwhile , a photographer begins to investigate
and discovers the horrible plan of "Méngüele¨ , the "Angel of Death," ,
one of the most dangerous criminals in the world.
The screenplay by Lucia Puenzo takes some licenses about Mengele real-life but is nicely developed and gets certain tension and amusement with moral dilemma included . Its importance lies mostly in its dramatic as well as thrilling approach . Wakolda" (original title) which represents a more fitting , symbolic title to truly capture the essence of this moving, disquieting drama ; being also titled "The German Doctor" or ¨El medico Aleman" results to be a suspense movie that amuses and entertains , has good taste and in general lines is above average . Story is not boring , neither tiring but is entertaining at any time, though it is true that turns into a picture that tends to underline its latent absurdities and entangled in his ending . After all, this picture is not about the doctor, as such , but his relationship with the young Lilith , finding a strand of intimacy amidst an otherwise comprehensive, implicative narrative . In the picture appears some of the best Argentinean actors such as Natalia Oreiro as Eva , Diego Peretti as Enzo , both of whom give nice interpretations . Special mention to Spanish Àlex Brendemühl , he is terrific as a brutal Josef Mengele .
The motion picture was well written and directed by Lucia Puenzo . As Puenzo efficiently seeks to explore the banality - and impunity - of a devastating evil . Lucía Puenzo's third feature film to follow the critically acclaimed Xxy and The Fish Child . Wakoda premiering in the Un Certain Regard programme at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival ; Puenzo's latest went on to be nominated as Argentina's official entry at this year's Academy Awards amidst much acclaim .
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I know they're both doctors, seeking pleasure in the darkest realms of
the mind and life. As fascinating as Lecter is in "Silence of the
Lambs", Mendele outdoes him by a mile in "The German Doctor", a
chilling and observational adaptation of a true story. Lecter satisfies
his gourmet needs through various methods which from seduction to sheer
violence. Mendele's mind is a labyrinth, clouded by forces very few
might ever understand. We just know he's one entity you don't want to
be around, no matter whether you're in his good or bad graces. Either
way, he'll draw you into hell.
An Argentinian family becomes the target of his latest project, and he wanders into their immediate circle, one that is already a bit complex because it is partly made up of a lady with German ties, something which makes us think she either has close ties or will become key to the eventual manhunt. This is the first act, and the mystery starts. This gets confusing because the doctor soon has his sights on the younger daughter in the family. She's his new experimental obsession, or maybe just a step along the way to his real targets.
The film explores the environment where a monster like him can survive and keep avoiding his capture. Blood chills when we watch the school which is educating the future German wave. This is more striking because this is all happening in a place which brings to mind paradise, until Mendele talks about it as home. We know this is problematic for everyone else.
We have a detective story, an expose of a dark world and the dark forces that manage to keep going and going. The film is presented in a very interesting manner because it is very controlled, never cold or distant, never too sensationalistic. We pick up the emotions from simple drawings, like being in a zoo and watching hunters and preys. It is impossible to look away. In addition, there is psychological and historical elements, and it all feels real.
A rare film, one which doesn't preach, or bore you. It lets you observe, study, meditate, and think about what happen, is happening, and might even happen again.
Hypnotic scenery matching the scale of the Sonnenmenschen legend. The
protagonist's epic ascension to the heaven with South American Alps as
a backdrop. A beautiful story in 4 languages, retelling myths of
Bariloche. I watched the film several times - without subtitles,
without sound, and in black and white. Every time it was a different
story: it started as another Nazi'xlpoitation flick, almost like Odessa
files, and turned into a road movie, coming of age saga, Patagonian
Lolita, and Dr. Faustus noir fairytale.
Lucia Puenzo, you are a magician.
I admire your maddening style of quiet ambivalence. Like the fleeing smile of Nora The Photographer. It is unusual and nice that interpretations and the final judgment are left to spectators. Plenty of untapped potential. Just imagine if authors openly took sides... :)
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