Patagonia is often known for its desolate areas. It's a place people go to be alone. (Bruce Chatwin was a fan.) In her new film, THE GERMAN DOCTOR (Wakolda is the original Argentine title), writer/director Lucía Puenzo takes us there, but to a very different area: a gorgeous resort nestled in a mountain village next to a beautiful lake. The filmmaker also travels back in time to 1960s, a period far enough after World War II that people were beginning to move on from the Nazi atrocities to find other subjects to explore. In Argentina, however -- a country that managed to make itself into a haven for both Jews and their persecutors -- and particularly in out-of-the-way places like Patagonia, a hive of what we might call early neo-Nazis could (and evidently did) thrive.
Josef Mengele, (played by that excellent Spanish actor, Àlex Brendemühl, below), an escaped Nazi who enjoyed experimenting on concentration camp inmates and evidently took this passion with him to South America. Back in 2007 Puenzo gave us a film, XXY, that remains one of the best ever to deal with the condition and problems faced by a gender "other" and her family. In her new film, the 12-year-old girl, Eva (played by Florencia Bado), who provides the heart of this movie, is also a kind of "other," as she has inherited a gene that makes her unusually short. Do you think the good doctor might be interested in her? Were the Nazis naughty?
Natalie Oreiro, above), pregnant with twins (yet another inducement/temptation/opportunity for our Nazi doctor), wants Eva to continue growing physically. Her father (Diego Peretti, below, right), who does not trust the doctor, will have none of it, even after the medicine man makes him a solid offer to fund mass production of the doll in porcelain.
TrustMovies is pleased with the way Puenzo handles it all, though he admits the movie does not quite rise to the level of XXY, perhaps because, in that earlier film, the subject was both original and shown in a bracing, dramatic, unsentimental manner. While this film is equally unsentimental (this seems a hallmark of the filmmaker), folk my age by now have seen an awful lot of Hitler/Eichmann/Mengele movies, and so some of the bloom of the bizarre has withered from those thorny roses.
Samuel Goldwyn Films and running just 93 minutes, The German Doctor opens this Friday in New York City at the IFC Center and the Lincoln Plaza Cinema, and in Los Angeles at The Landmark, in Berkeley at Landmark's Shattuck Cinemas, and in San Francisco at Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema. Starting the following week and continuing over the next month or so, the film will hit theaters in cities across the country. Click here to see all currently scheduled playdates.