Wednesday, October 15, 2014
The German Doctor (orig. Wakolda) 
Cine para Leer (M. Alcalá) review*
Clarin.com (P.O. Scholtz) review*
LaNacion.com.ar (J. Porta Fouz) review*
kino-zeit.de (S. C. Reiger) review*
NeueZürcherZeitung.ch (J. Krebs) review*
Büchkritik.at (V. Frick) book review*
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
RE.com (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review
The German Doctor (orig. Wakolda)  [IMDb] [CN.ar]* (screenplay and directed by Argentinian writer/director Lucía Puenzo [IMDb] [CN.ar]* based on her novel [Amzn] [GR] by the same name) tells the story, somewhat fictionalized, of Nazi War criminal Joseph Mengele's time in the Argentinian Patagonian town of San Carlos de Baroliche [en.wikip] [es.wikip]* located at the eastern edge of the Andes Mountains about midway down the length of the country.
The town of San Carlos de Baroliche [en.wikip] [es.wikip]* certainly has an evocative and arguably notorious history. Already, largely settled by German and Austrian immigrants since the late 1800s, it apparently became a haven for Nazis fleeing Germany at the end of World War II. Indeed, apparently the town's "German School" was head-mastered for years after the war by another Nazi War criminal, former SS police captain Erich Priebke who had been responsible for the massacre of some 335 Italian civilians among them 75 of Jewish ancestry outside of Rome in 1944 in reprisal to a partisan raid. Interestingly enough, the town, admittedly located by a large lake, _also_ became a center of Argentina's post-WW II / Peron Era nuclear research program... Finally, some have even claimed that Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun actually lived at a villa outside of the town after the War. (Both the German School and a destroyed bunker on the grounds of supposedly Hitler's post-WW II residence outside of town appear in the film ...). With such an evocative / notorious history, San Carlos de Baroliche [en.wikip] [es.wikip]* becomes something like Argentina's Roswell, NM (the notorious site of a supposed post- WW II, 1947 U.F.O. crash).
With this kind of a history, I suppose it becomes almost inevitable that books and films would come to be made about the town, and I honestly wish to thank the Argentine writer/director Lucía Puenzo [IMDb] [CN.ar]* for letting the rest of the world know a little bit about this place. It's been common knowledge that many Nazis fleeing Germany after the War ended-up in Argentina. However, it would seem that it would require a native, an Argentinian, to be really able to tell the story well. So honestly thank you Ms. Puenzo for telling us this story!
So then what is the trajectory of this tale? Well the story begins in 1960, in the months just before Israel's Mossad's famous capture of Nazi War criminal Adolf Eichmann in Buenos Aires (bringing him back to trial in Israel).
A quite ordinary Argentinian family is heading to San Carlos de Baroliche [en.wikip] [es.wikip]* to takeover a lakeside hotel left to the mother, Eva (played by Natalia Oreiro [IMDb] [CN.ar]*) by her German descended parents. Eva had, in fact, grown-up in the town and had attended the town's "German School" noted above in the 1940s. Her Argentinian husband, Enzo (played by Diego Peretti [IMDb] [CN.ar]*) something of a craftsman (a doll maker) is more-or-less obviously "put-off" by the German (and perhaps even "suspected haven to War Criminals") vibes that the town and the townspeople give off. BUT ... HER WIFE JUST INHERITED A BEAUTIFUL, WELL MAINTAINED, LAKESIDE HOTEL ... So IF YOU were IN HIS PLACE, would you not want to at least see what his wife had just inherited and perhaps seek "to find a way" to "make this work" for you and your family? So at the beginning of the film, Eva, pregnant, with twins soon find out, Enzo and their "short for her age" 12 year old daughter Lilith (played by Florencia Bado [IMDb] [CN.ar]*) are shown driving to this out-of-the-way Patagonian town at the Eastern slopes of the Andes Mountains to claim the hotel left to them by Eva's parents.
On the drive to San Carlos de Baroliche [en.wikip] [es.wikip]*, they come across a somewhat standoffish German Doctor (played by Álex Brendemühl [IMDb] [CN.ar]*) who is ALSO heading to the same town but isn't quite sure how to get there. Being friendly and NOT suspecting anything particularly out-of-order, after all Eva herself is of German descent, the family tells him to just follow them. And so it is that this "German Doctor" makes it to San Carlos de Baroliche [en.wikip] [es.wikip]*.
Now the town is portrayed as being quite dominated, culturally anyway, by Germans -- again this is 1960 -- to the obvious discomfort of Argentinian husband/father Enzo who feels "like a stranger in his own country." But Eva does feel "at home." After all, she grew-up there. Yes, her school pictures from "back in the day" shows the entire school assembly in Hitler Jugend-like uniforms "Sieg Heil-ing" with the Nazi salute. But that was the childhood that she knew.
Soon, Eva and Enzo have their 12-year-old Lileth enrolled in the German school. It's a "little less Nazi" than it was in the 1940s (after-all it's 15 years after the war). Still there are two problems: (1) Lileth knows little German. No matter, the school is prepared to teach her and other Argentinian students of German descent like her the language so that she can fully catch-up with the rest of the students in due time. But (2) she _is_ also "short for her age." So the school lets her enter, but the kids, versed in race/genetics-based "ideals" quickly make fun of her, calling her a "midget" / "dwarf."
Re-enter the quiet, standoffish German Doctor. Noting also Lileth's "shortness" for her age, he suggests to the parents a "hormone therapy" that he claims go get her height corrected in due time. He ALSO becomes intrigued when he finds that Eva's expecting twins ...
Now good and utterly non-German/Nazi Enzo finds the German Doctor a creep and doesn't want him anywhere near his family, much less treating his daughter or wife. Eva on the other hand wants her daughter to be happy at school. So Eva does have Lileth treated by this German Doctor "quietly" (on the side) without her husband knowing.
Of course, it's not too much of a surprise to the Viewer (or Reader here) who "The German Doctor" really is. And indeed, during the film, there are numerous references of a paranoia settling into the German community of San Carlos de Baroliche [en.wikip] [es.wikip]* with rumors of "Israeli spies" infiltrating the community, looking for former Nazis. And when news of Eichmann's capture in Buenos Aires reaches town, well ... guess who has to flee (again) ...
It's all a fascinating story and the author claims that it's largely true ... the family portrayed is fictionalized, but Joseph Mengele's presence in the town of San Carlos de Baroliche [en.wikip] [es.wikip]* at that time, was not.
This is not a fast-moving action film. Indeed, its power comes actually from its rather slow-moving ordinariness. And I have to say that after four years of writing my blog, this is the kind of film that I've come to most appreciate -- a historically based film made by people (in this case Argentinians) who were closest to the story. Great job Ms. Puenzo [IMDb] [CN.ar]* great job!
ADDENDUM: This film, which passed through briefly in Chicago in August 2014, is available now on DVD or streaming on services like Amazon Instant Video.
* Reasonably good (sense) translations of non-English webpages can be found by viewing them through Google's Chrome browser.
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