Director: Lucía Puenzo | 93 minutes | drama, history, thriller | Actors: Àlex Brendemühl, Natalia Oreiro, Diego Peretti, Elena Roger, Guillermo Pfening, Florencia Bado, Alan Daicz, Nicolas Marsella, Ana Pauls, Juan I. Martínez, Carlos Kaspar, Maria V. Barret, Abril Braunstein, Benito E. Crespo, Sebástian Cáneva, Hartmut Becher, Valeria Radivo, Ricardo Truppel, Marcelo ‘Hos’ Bearzi, Maia Muravchik, Tobías González Varceló, Matíaz Zunini, Martín Willnecker
Josef Mengele, the camp doctor at Auschwitz extermination camp, fled to South America after World War II. The angel of death, so named because of his gruesome and often deadly experiments with camp inmates, managed to stay out of the hands of the so-called Nazi hunters until his own death. In the early 1960s, Mengele was said to reside in Argentina, a fact that has been incorporated into the largely fictional book adaptation “Wakolda”.
While traveling through the Argentinean pampas, Mengele (Àlex Brendemühl) meets a five-person family that rekindles his interest in medical science. The mysterious man pays particular attention to daughter Lilith, who is considerably too small for her age. To observe the girl more closely, he decides to take a room in the hotel that the family runs. With the approval of mother Eva, the suspicious father Enzo knows nothing about it, the doctor starts his experimental treatment with the twelve-year-old girl as a test object. When Eva gives birth to malfunctioning twins and calls in the charismatic doctor for the second time, the conflicts of trust within the family are further sharpened. A spy from the Israeli secret service keeps a close eye on developments in the meantime.
What is immediately striking about this synopsis is the great coincidence, which characterizes “Wakolda” to a great extent. To show a doctor who was known for taking a keen interest in physically abnormalities and serving twins exactly the same is not a sign of creative authorship. And there are more small and large coincidences. To demarcate the space and increase tension, weather conditions can change from now on. The youngest child in the family is showing an interest in anatomy just as the doctor enters their lives. Father Enzo works as a doll doctor in addition to the hotel business and dreams of having his own production line of perfect and pure dolls, in a way the Nazis dreamed of a perfect Aryan breed. And so it goes on with forced plot properties.
The characters act according to what occupies them at that moment and not on the basis of how they were portrayed earlier in the film. By allowing themselves to be carried along like passive driftwood, they become inconsistent templates. Moreover, the (Argentinian) characters are grossly naive. Apart from the spy from Israel, no one is wondering where the large number of Germans suddenly come from. Not even when television broadcasts focus on the Second World War or when the Fuehrer is discussed in front of others, no lights are lit anywhere. In short, “Wakolda” demonstrates a very easy and therefore flawed cause-and-effect logic that is sprinkled over the story with many plot holes. Characters are ambiguous, poorly motivated and excessively opportunistic. That side line with the spy never comes to full maturity. It seems to be more about the internal relationships and trust issues within the family than about the tension, but “Wakolda” gets stuck somewhere in between because of the poor character development.
The dry and lifeless voice-over and the often sloppy editing and découpage do not make things any better. Still, “Wakolda” is not a complete failure. Fortunately, the acting is fine, filmmaker Lucía Puenzo has a great sense of filming landscapes and Mengele’s character does get the moral effect that the film deserves. The truth behind his intentions lie in a gray area and with his charismatic appearance it gives him the desired consistency and depth. The shortcomings of “Wakolda” are fixed in the screenplay, which puts the film already 1-0 behind. Unfortunately.