Wakolda– Review by Frank L.
Written and Directed by Lucia Puenzo
Stars: ÀlexBrendemühl, Diego Peretti, Guillermo Pfening
The contest to identify who was the most evil individual amongst the panoply of grotesques who comprised the leadership of the National Socialist movement in Germany from 1933 to 1945 would have a large number of candidates of whom Josef Mengele would be one of the favourites to be the outright winner. He was the so-called doctor of the notorious extermination camp Auschwitz where he conducted various experiments of no scientific value on the unfortunate inmates. He fled the camp just before it was overrun by the Russians in January 1945, managed to evade the Allied authorities in Europe and to flee to South America where he lived until he died in Brazil in 1979 outsmarting the various authorities who were searching for Nazi war criminals including him in particular.
In exile in South America he apparently lived for a short period with an Argentinian family who were unaware of his identity. It is this portion of Mengele’s life that Puenzo uses in order to create her story about Mengele. The mother (Natalia Oreira) of the family is of German origin and speaks German, her children understand German. During the course of the film the children are transferred to a nearby school run on German lines. She has a daughter, Lilith, who is very small for her age and is bullied because of her stature. Mengele (Alex Brendemuehl) offers to help her grow by the administration of certain drugs. The mother gives her consent to the treatment but conceals the fact from the father who is opposed to any such treatment and harbours doubts about the so-called doctor.
As the story is set in 1960, the kidnapping of Adolf Eichmann in Argentina by Mossad, the Israeli secret service, and his reappearance in Tel Aviv, is big news throughout the world. Puenzo by use of contemporaneous television news clips of Eichmann’s reappearance in Israel as shown in the bars and clubs of Argentina where the German exiles i.e. old Nazis gather creates an atmosphere of apprehension and fear as to who might be next after Eichmann to be caught. The mother is also pregnant with twins which is also of interest to Mengele whose experimentation had a particular fascination with twins.
Puenzo creates a sense of deep unease by the use of several shots of a battered old doll owned by Lillith. The doll has a cavity for a beating heart. Lillith’s father is an inventor and has invented a contraption to be a beating heart. Mengele suggests the dolls should be manufactured. The scenes in the doll factory of the production of the heads, bodies, limbs and eyes of the dolls have a sinister unsettling effect and thoughts of Auschwitz and its grim deeds are not far from the forefront of the mind.
Alex Brendmuhl gives a fine performance as the personification of Mengele and is ably supported by the cast. As the film is based on a novell, it is difficult to know exactly what is fact and precisely what is fiction. As the consequences of Naziism in general and the concentration and extermination camps in particular are still with us, the blurring of fact and fiction is not helpful even where the resultant artistic creation is a fine piece of work at many levels. However that said, this film is worth seeing.