Cred­i­bly on the trail of Men­gele in Ar­gentina

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE -


JOSEF MEN­GELE is alive and well and liv­ing in Patagonia in Lucía Puenzo’s film. Adapted from her novel, Wakolda — Ar­gentina’s se­lec­tion for the for­eign lan­guage cat­e­gory at this year’s Academy Awards — is a be­liev­able imag­in­ing of a pe­riod in 1960 when the Auschwitz “An­gel of Death” went to South Amer­ica, but left lit­tle ev­i­dence of his ac­tiv­i­ties. This al­lows Puenzo to come up with her own fright­en­ing the­o­ries, while val­i­dat­ing ha­tred of the sadis­tic mon­ster.

Alex Bren­demühl por­trays the evil doc­tor in­cred­i­bly well, com­bin­ing men­ace with pro­bity, which makes him cred­i­ble in the eyes of the fam­ily who al­low him to live in their ho­tel, test his growth-hor­mone ex­per­i­ments on their un­der-sized 12-year-old daugh- ter, Lilith (ac­com­plished new­comer Floren­cia Bado) and mon­i­tor her mother, who is preg­nant with twins.

The doll-maker fa­ther (Diego Peretti) has his doubts about the res­i­dent ge­neti­cist, who has adopted the pseu­do­nym Hel­mut Gre­gor, but he is too busy cre­at­ing a doll with a me­chan­i­cal beat­ing heart. When Men­gele helps him to fi­nance his project, they visit the fac­tory to­gether and it is there among the rows of iden­ti­cal blue-eyed blonde dolls that the doc­tor’s own sick am­bi­tions come into sharp relief. Sym­bol­ism at its most ob­vi­ous per­haps, but still un­set­tling.

Equally so is the Ar­gen­tinian wel­come mat for flee­ing Nazis and the col­lud­ing by the lo­cal Ger­man ex-pats who run their own school and a hos­pi­tal filled with ban­daged pa­tients un­der­go­ing sus­pi­cious cos­metic surgery.

With Mos­sad in de­ter­mined pur­suit of war crim­i­nals, the other re­al­life char­ac­ter in the film is Nora El­doc (Elena Roger), an un­der­cover op­er­a­tive who hunted Nazis. Here pos­ing as a pho­tog­ra­pher, she alerts her bosses to Men­gele’s true iden­tity. The solid per­for­mances and mea­sured di­rec­tion by Puenzo are all rea­sons to rec­om­mend the film, which re­gret­fully has the worst score (we’re talk­ing fin­gers in the ears) I’ve ever heard. As a thriller, it lacks the sus­pense of Marathon Man, or even The Boys from Brazil. But when you con­sider the pos­si­bil­ity of this be­ing a true story, it is ter­ri­fy­ing.

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