By Nicky Johnston.
Set in 1960, Wakolda is the story of an Argentinian family who develop a relationship with a German doctor. As the doctor becomes a larger part of their lives it becomes obvious that his medical practice is deeply unethical and he has links to the Nazi party. [SPOILER] The doctor is Nazi war criminal, Josef Mengele.
Unfortunately, Wakolda has a bad case of ‘preaching to the converted’. Puenzo relies heavily on the audience already knowing what is going on, who Josef Mengele is and why he’s a bad person. For the majority of the movie my friend thought the story was based in Germany, not Argentina! This may sound unnecessarily harsh; in all fairness, I was aware of Josef Mengele’s life and crimes prior to Wakolda so it is much more difficult for me to imagine watching the film tabula rasa.
Yet, without Mengele’s infamous background at the Nazi death camps he seems like a creepy, but well meaning, man. Yes, he uses growth hormones on a young girl, but is granted permission by her mother and the film stresses her willing participation. Mengele develops an unsettling fixation with two newborn twins, but he still saves their lives! That is not an appropriate portrayal for a man who was known as the “Angel of Death”: a man who is thought to be responsible for countless deaths, for inhumane experiments on twins and dwarfs and inexcusable horrors.
The film’s problems stem largely from this issue. Problems made all the more frustrating by how easily they could have been resolved with some framing information on Mengele’s life at the beginning of the movie. This isn’t helped by the fact that Mengele (Alex Brendemuhl) looks weirdly similar to Magnum P.I. (Tom Selleck). Yes, really…
However, that is not to say that Wakolda is a bad movie.
First, credit must go to Florencia Bado as Lilith. This is Bado’s first acting role and, as the young daughter of the central Argentinian family, she steals the movie. Lilith develops an intense and instant bond with the doctor; born prematurely, she is underdeveloped for her age and becomes the main focus of his medical treatment. The film excels as we watch her provocative fascination with Mengele fade to passivity as she reaches puberty.
Secondly, Wakolda is hugely pleasurable to watch. Excepting some questionable soundtrack choices, every aspect of Wakolda is designed to smoothly wash over you. The stunning natural beauty of the Nahuel Huapi lake, the filming choices that are so consciously un-modern, the paradoxically busy but gentle pacing; all combine to create a lushly full bodied film.
Overall, the film deserves 4 out of 5 stars.
A really enjoyable film, but the misguided portrayal of Mengele limits the movie to relative mediocrity. It’s certainly worth a watch but I’d advise doing your own historical research first.
EDIT – Wakolda -out on DVD 12th Jan.
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