Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
The German Doctor: The Man from Patagonia
the physician in question is not Albert Schweitzer. It is the monstrous Josef
Mengele who has ingratiated himself with young Lilith’s family. Living under an
assumed name, the evil “Angel of Death” has resumed his eugenic research with
the help of Argentina’s large German expat community. Adapting her own novel Wakolda for the screen, Lucía Puenzo
offers some informed speculation about Menegele’s Argentine years in The German Doctor (trailer here), which opens
tomorrow in New York.
is traveling through Patagonia with her father Enzo and her very pregnant
mother Eva, who happens to be carrying twins (if know anything about Mengele,
you recognize this will become significant later). On the road, they meet a
German doctor, who asks to follow them through the forbidding landscape for
safety’s sake. Eva happens to be the graduate of Bariloche’s German language
school, so she can converse with Mengele in his fatherland tongue. She even has
old class photos generously accessorized with swastikas.
they are only too happy to have the doctor take up residency in their
chalet-style hotel. Given his friendly overtures, they are also willing to
allow the doctor to prescribe a growth regimen for Lilith. However, as his
manipulations become more insidious, Enzo starts to suspect something is
profoundly wrong about his family’s new patron. Of course, he is still a beat
or two behind Nora Eldoc, a deep-cover National Socialist hunter.
Puenzo stops short of outright conspiracy thriller territory, she paints a
chilling portrait of a monolithically complicit German-Argentine community.
Eldoc’s investigation also provides respectable servings of intrigue and
suspense. However, the film fundamentally serves as a yin-and-yang character
study of the icily fanatical Mengele and the innocent but keenly intuitive
actor Àlex Brendemühl is thoroughly creepy as Mengele, portraying him with
quiet, precise menace. Yet, the bigger story is young Florencia Bado, whose
lead performance is unusually mature and assured. Elena Roger (star of both the
recent Broadway and West End revivals of Evita)
also takes a smart, passionate turn as Eldoc. Unfortunately, Diego Peretti and
Natalia Oreiro are standard issue dumb parents, who could have wandered in from
an old John Hughes movie.
Even though Puenzo’s pacing is a bit
inconsistent, she coaxes some powerful performances out of her multinational
cast and convincingly indicts Argentina (and neighboring countries like
Paraguay) for either knowingly sheltering war criminals like Mengele, or at
least deliberately turning a blind eye to their enterprises. It is a
surprisingly compelling work of docu-fiction. Recommended for those who
appreciate darkly unsettling coming of age tales, The German Doctor opens tomorrow (4/24) in New York at the Lincoln
Labels: Argentine Cinema, Josef Mengele