08th Aug2014

Wakolda – Film

by timbaros

WakoldaWakolda: Dr. Josef Mengele was nicknamed ‘the Angel of Death’ because the atrocities he carried out as a German officer in WW II: he would select who would live or die in the concentration camps, and he would perform scientific experiments on people, including children, and twins. The new film Wakolda tells the time in his life when he spent time in Paraguay in 1960, continuing to hide to prevent him getting caught and going to trial.

Combining history with fiction, Wakolda tells the story of a family who could have lived with Mengele during his time in Paraguay. Mengele had originally fled to Argentina when WW II ended (with a false name, identity and Italian residency papers), but then went to Patagonia (a region in South America shared by both Argentina and Chile) after living in Buenos Aires, where he was almost discovered. Even way before Mengele moved for a short time to Patagonia, and before the end of WW II, Patagonia had been a settlement community for Germans. But little did people know that Mengele, one of the most infamous men associated with the death camps and the holocaust, was living amongst them.
The fictionalized part of Mengele’s life is the story that Wakolda tells. An Argentinean family meets a German physician who follows them a long car journey to a town called Bariloche, where the family – German speaking Eva, her husband Enzo and their three children – are going to open up a lodging house that once belonged to Eva’s family. After the car journey, the family decide to let the doctor (played by Alex Brendemuhl) stay with them as it appears he’s got nowhere else to go. There is a large German community nearby that mixes with the Argentine population, so German is a common language in that area, and they are known as sonnenmenschen (sun people).
Eva and Enzo’s 12-year old daughter – Lilith – is small for her age, and she constantly gets picked on at school. So Eva allows the doctor to give her pills to help her grow. And Eva gets pregnant, so the doctor gives her pills to help her along with her pregnancy, however little do they know about his past – a doctor who experiments on humans. Enzo, meanwhile, wants to start a company producing dolls, so the doctor mysteriously comes up with the money to help Enzo produce these dolls. However, as Lilith starts to become sick from the pills she is taking, and Eva gives birth to twins who may or may not be healthy, questions are raised about the doctor. It is up to local photographer who discovers who the doctor really is and to alert the authorities in time before he flees the area to his next hiding place.
Wakolda, so aptly named after Lilith’s doll (a metaphor for Mengele’s experimentation on children who were like dolls to him) is based on the 2011 book by it’s director – Lucia Puenzo, who also produced and wrote the script. Wakolda has the look and feel of a 1960’s film, with imagery and the soft color focus of the lens to match. But it’s dragged down by the fact that it’s not history we’re watching but a film based on a historical figure that probably didn’t happen. It is known that Mengele did live and worked on a farm in this area, but perhaps he did not continue to carry out his experimentation on people, for if he did he would’ve likely have been caught much sooner. And while the cinematography is stunning (lakes and snow-capped mountains can’t fault any film), and the acting ok if a little melodramatic, it’s the make-believe storyline that makes Wakolda not worthy of a watch. Some scenes jump around (at one point Lilith is very sick in bed, then the next scene she is up and fine, and then she is back in bed again), and Eva gives birth all too quickly to the twins, who don’t actually look new born at all. Puenzo the director is successful in making this a slick film, but I would’ve rather watched a historical take on Mengele and not a fictional one.