Filling my Amazon basket with DVDs associated to previous purchases, I had the fortune of buying the excellent “Wakolda” (translated as The German Doctor). Writer/Director Lucia Puenzo brings her book of the same name to life, in what is only her second major film adaptation, this is a chilling and discomforting film based on factual events that you will definitely want to look further into after viewing.
For those not well versed in German/Argentinian history, you’d be forgiven for any initial confusion as to why a film called “The German Doctor” was taking place within the vast landscapes of Patagonia, Argentina. However, Argentina was receiving large numbers of German Immigrants/Refugees throughout the early 1900’s, right until the late 1960s, predominantly through exile from the World Wars. Hence, when watching Wakolda, beyond the subtitles, you will notice a natural switch from both German and Spanish dialogue, and an outwardly assimilated society between the Argentinians and Germans.
With that in mind, we first meet our German Doctor Helmut Gregor (Alex Brendemuhl) as he approaches a family en route to their home, along a desolate single road down to Nahuei Huapi. The father Enzo (Diego Perretti) and pregnant mother Eva (Natalia Oreiro) have three kids, but Dr. Gregor takes a particular shine to their 12-year-old daughter Lilith (Florencia Bado) for reasons that soon become clear. She is smaller than the other girls at school, resulting in ridicule and victimising, and the doctor appears to have an answer to the problem.
Florencia Bado and Alex Brendemuhl have an exceptional dynamic together; with a minimal script they convey an unspoken bond that gets put to the test as the story evolves. Complemented with equally sound performances across the board, this is an immensely accomplished film, beautifully shot, skilfully unveiling the mystery piece by piece.
This seemingly innocent situation becomes increasingly questionable as the film progresses, escalating from his overly keen approach to help combined with his shrewd demeanour, something does not seem right. It transitions from drama to atmospheric thriller, dropping hints of foul-play but never pulling the trigger or offering more than a small bite of information. There is a lot unknown about this doctor, it instills nervousness for all involved, and much like the family, we are kept in the dark, until the intense final act.
Wakolda is a fascinating exploration of one of the lesser known aspects of German history. A fantastic film from a very talented director, and given the appetite for mysterious thrillers, this is one that deserves to be seen by a wider audience.