Fascinating Argentine drama about Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele (“the Angel of Death”) imagines an upscale post-Auschwitz life for him in the Andean resort of Bariloche until Israelis capture Eichmann & Mengele flees to Paraguay. All the while, he continues his nefarious “experiments,” finding ideal subjects in teenage Lilith & her mother Eva (pregnant with twins).
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Argentina’s candidate for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2014 was this chilling drama about Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele (“the Angel of Death”) which imagines an upscale post-Auschwitz life for him in the Andean resort of Bariloche. Then the Israelis capture Adolph Eichmann in Buenos Aires in 1960, and Mengele flees to Paraguay. But all the while, he is continuing his nefarious “experiments,” finding ideal subjects in teenage Lilith (Florencia Bado) and her mother Eva (Natalia Oreiro) who is pregnant with twins.
The German Doctor (called Wakolda in Argentina) was written & directed by Lucia Puenzo. As a director, Puenzo is superb. The film moves fast and even though we all know the ending (anyone who knows this subject already knows that Mengele was never captured), the suspense is excruciating. The cinematographer, Nicolas Puenzo, turns Bariloche into a haunted dreamscape, and composer Daniel Tarrab jangles our nerves with increasingly ominous dissonance.
Unfortunately Puenzo less successful as a screenwriter. There is one especially egregious “and then a miracle occurs” point near the end (when Lilith is suffering from a high fever in one scene but appears to be perfectly fine in the next scene). Perhaps answers are to be found in Puenzo’s novel Wakolda, which seems to have preceded the screenplay. Right now, it is only available in Spanish and German, but it will soon be published in English and available from Amazon.
And yet Alex Brendemühl is so perfect as Mengele–steely, suave, enormously intelligent, totally ruthless–that he makes it impossible to look away.
NOTE: In this film–as in many foreign language films–ears are as important as eyes. Although most of the film is in Spanish, American audiences need to appreciate that Eva often speaks with Herr Doctor in German. There is also a scene in which a photographer named “Nora” (Elena Roger) makes a phone call and speaks Hebrew…
Top Photo: Alex Brendemühl is riveting as Nazi War Criminal Josef Mengele.
Middle Photo: One of Puenzo’s inspired inventions is to make Lilith’s father “Enzo” (Diego Peretti) a doll hobbyist. Mengele convinces Enzo to open a doll factory–promising to be his primary investor–which enables Puenzo to create images like this one (strongly evoking Auschwitz, Cambodia, and other genocidal horrors).
Bottom Photo: Mengele is fascinated by “Lilith” (Florencia Bado). Unlike her “perfect” Aryan brothers, Lilith was born premature and stayed sickly as an infant, so she is now undersized and fragile. Although Lilith’s father “Enzo” objects, Mengele convinces Lilith’s mother “Eva” (Natalia Oreiro) that his mysterious injections will make the girl look more “normal,” if not outright cure her.
Question #1: Does The German Doctor pass the Bechdel Test? No.
Mengele is the central figure in The German Doctor, and all conversations by all the other characters–male and female–loop back to him.
Question #2: Where is this gorgeous location?
Bariloche is located on the Chilean border in the “Andean Alps.” Its “Sister Cities”include Aspen (in the Colorado Rockies) & San Moritz (in the Swiss Alps).
Map copied from Mapquest.