The German Doctor (Wakolda)
A well-made, low-key true story set in 1960s Argentina
12 year old Lilith (Florencia Bado) is travelling with her family across the wilderness of Argentina’s Patagonia region in 1960. They’re hoping to renovate a hotel they’ve inherited; en route, they’re joined by a German physician (Alex Brendemuhl) calling himself Helmut Gregor, who ends up being their first guest. As a bond forms between Lilith and the doctor, details of his murky past begin to emerge.
The film makes no great secret of the fact that Helmut Gregor is actually Joseph Mengele – this is a family drama rather than a secret identity thriller. The family’s opening journey across the striking expanse of Patagonia sets this dynamic for the rest of the film – rather than allow any element of surprise or unpredictability, writer-director Lucia Puenzo lets events unfold at a moderate pace, and the eventual destination arrives as expected without much to-do. The lead performances are similarly unshowy – only Diego Peretti, playing Lilith’s father Enzo, displays any fire when he discovers the doctor’s shady practises; Brendemuhl, meanwhile, imbues his physician with clinical German reserve, and everyone else opts for varying levels of subdued anguish.
Aside from Nicolas Puenzo’s beautifully still grey-brown visuals (which take on a storybook air as winter sets in), there’s nothing about The German Doctor that generates much excitement; even the score from erstwhile Bad Seed Warren Ellis is inconspicuous. Perhaps this is preferable to a sensationalist and liberty-taking retelling of what is admittedly a true story; still, what Lucia Puenzo leaves us with is a story that’s well-made without being overly memorable.
Screening at Cineworld Renfrew Street, Glasgow, Thu 27 & Fri 28 Feb, as part of the Glasgow Film Festival. Selected release from Fri 9 May.