How could anyone not know that any German doctor in South America in the years following World War II is Josef Mengele, the doctor who experimented on Jews in Auschwitz during the Holocaust in his quest to eugenically control the population after the hoped-for successful culmination of the War? It seems "the Argentinean government opened its doors to so many Nazis, even making a law to allow them the use of their real names, while entire towns were openly friendly to welcoming them." (Lucia Puenzo) So, it seems, they did know.
In this true story, one family, not Nazi sympathizers as many were, cautiously admits him into their home. The family opens a hotel and the Doctor wants to be their first guest, cash in advance. Daughter Lilith is far too small for her age. The Doctor says he can treat her to rapidly increase her height. Father Enzo is a doll maker, creating one unique and beautiful doll at a time. The Doctor invests in Enzo's endeavor, employing a factory to pump out uniform replicas at a staggering rate. Eva, the mother, is pregnant with twins and has a history of miscarriage and premature birth -- it's good to have a Doctor nearby. Or is it?
Shot in Patagonia, the beautiful countryside looks Alpine and serene. But the juxtaposition of the distant snow topped mountains, placid lakes and pastoral lawns to the evil that lurks just beneath the surface is stark. Other parallels that cannot be missed include a Nazi-hunter who is, like Lilith, far too small, and the assembly-line of uniformed dolls re-iterate Mengele's ultimate goal of Aryan perfection.
The film probes the choice between individuality and the quest for uniform perfection, and the temptation to make a deal with the devil (even if it is to help one's own children). From 'Marathon Man' (1976), 'Boys From Brazil' (1978), 'Music Box' (1989), 'Apt Pupil' (1998), and 'The Stranger' (1946), to 'This Must Be The Place' (2011), the after-effects of the Holocaust's war criminals still reverberate. It is a relief that 69 years have passed since the end of the war. It is highly improbable that any war criminals are still alive, and if they were, dispatching them at this point would only be a blessing for them in their advanced decrepitude. The era of Nazi hunting may be over, but the family in 'The German Doctor' artifully and emotionally returns us to that painful time. We along with them make the choices of conscience, exigency, familial love. Also, lest we forget....
The German Doctor (Subtitles in German and Spanish)
Director/Writer: Lucía Puenzo
Based on my novel Wakolda by Puenzo
Cast: Natalia Oreiro, Àlex Brendemühl, Diego Peretti, Florencia Bado, Elena Roger, Guillermo Pfening
Time: 93 min.
Opening April 25 at the Embarcadero Cinema in San Francisco and the Albany Twin in Albany