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Wakolda: The German Doctor

Film Five Stars
Wakolda was perhaps the biggest surprise of the 2014 Glasgow Film Festival for me. It came as a, and I apologise to everyone involved in the film for this, as a third choice film - first choices are films I have to see, second choices are films I want to see but will get dropped if they clash with a first choice, and third choice are those that will fill scheduling gaps. Wakolda was originally a third choice film and wasn’t going to be on my list but when I was offered it to review from DVD I took the opportunity.

Again I apologise that I came to the film with this attitude and I take this opportunity to tell you that you should not make the same mistake for the film had me hooked from the opening scene and I remained so throughout. It’s a fantastic film and it is perhaps the highlight of the Festival for me. Let me explain some of the reasons why.

Plot.pngWakolda.jpgThe true story of an Argentine family who lived with Josef Mengele without knowing his true identity, and of a girl who fell in love with one of the biggest criminals of all times.

TheFilm.pngFrom the very beginning there's an uncertainty about the central character and an uneasiness about his motives and it comes not so much from the theme of the story, but more from the modern day uncertainty of a man showing such interest in a young girl. It's this early moment that delivers the first real uneasiness and uncertainty about the character and his motives that stays, and indeed grows, throughout the film to great effect.

I loved the fact that the story told you who this character was from very early on in the film and what he was doing building tension and suspense from this point of knowledge. Another interesting choice is it tells the story from a future perspective, looking back on past events, and lets the audience in on the secret to begin with. This creates its own tension as you are carrying the knowledge of who this man is and the danger he could potentially pose for the child and the family while the family themselves are unaware. At the same time it raises an uncertainty as to what is going to happen since the narrator is the girl as well as bringing in an ongoing doubt as to the motives of the main character.

It concentrates on the small and the personal rather on big events. Considering who this character is, the acts he was responsible for and the potential harm he could cause, it’s a clever decision of the script to keep us looking to the family and his interaction. Even when the plot expands to consider the chase of the character and who is behind that, we remain with the family and never lose focus of the more personal side of the story. We are let in on the overhead moments and the passing clues that the other characters are experiencing while knowing the truth of who this man is, this keeps that tension forefront with the audience.

Through this more personal telling of the story we find that we aren't presented with a straight moral dichotomy, after all with the knowledge of what the character has been responsible for it is hard to see how we could find something to like about him or at least to connect with him, and indeed he should be the easiest of villains to write and to hate. Instead the story twists things for us and while we start off at the point of hating and clearly distrusting him we soon find ourselves seeing a little humanity to him that we would have scarcely expected to begin with. His character and the story around him are much more complex than we would have first thought, and the script and the film manage the impossible, bringing the audience towards him.

Some of his decisions are presented in such a way that they could be viewed as being manipulative and part of his ongoing research or a genuine concern for the child and bond for the family. It's hard to tell which is which until much later when a small moment, a moment that might easily be missed because the film doesn't make a great deal of it, gives us the suggestion of which is really true. Except even then we are left with an uncertainty and we are left to decide for ourselves. This is another aspect of the script that I love because it is dealing with true events and a character we don't really know the true motives about in this situation, so instead of deciding for history and creating some it presents it in a way that the audience can decide.

The script and the film keep underplaying any explanation of events, keeping the camera more as a witness than an active participant. This can be seen best in the understanding of the character of the photographer and her involvement in the story is. We are presented with just enough information so that we gain an understanding of what is happening. This is slowly built on and confirmed as the film progresses and as we spend more time with the character. This is a particular strong point of the film and works superbly well creating an intriguing and naturally paced thriller.

There are some great locations used in the film and to great effect providing a strong backdrop, locations such as the hotel which does look wonderful on screen. The use of the notebook throughout the film is an excellent creative choice as it takes us into the mind of the main character and gives us the opportunity to see some of the potential he has to be medically disconnected from humanity but at the same time be able to see and capture such beauty. These visuals are as engaging as the hotel itself and are used to great effect both visually and to expand on the story.

The subtle writing also portrayed the girl and her relationship with the main character perfectly. It never over plays it or takes it into territory that would be all too obvious and easy to see the character of an evil doctor in. This subtlety and nuance is throughout the script as well as the direction.

This heaps praise on the writer and director Lucía Puenzo whom I never realised until now made her feature directing debut and wrote the script for the equally intriguing and engaging film XXY (Filmstalker review) which I saw at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in 2007. She has made a number of films since that impressive beginning and she hasn't failed to deliver or surprise with Wakolda.

I was engaged throughout the film and fascinated as to how the story was going to turn out as well as what the truth was behind it all. The thriller worked extremely well and I loved almost everything about it. If I were to pick out some flaws I would turn to the family themselves as while we heard what had happened to the main character we didn't hear what happened to the girl, the twins and the family. There are questions I would have liked to have had resolved especially as we had stayed so close to them throughout and that the girl retold her story when she was older.

However, this is a small aspect of the film and again fits well with the underplaying of events and letting the story tell itself rather than over tell it.

Overall.pngI loved Wakolda: The German Doctor and the way that the thriller played out on a smaller and more personable scale. It presented a well-balanced and never over told or over explained story, presenting complex situations and decisions for the character and the audience alike.

I loved the way that the main character was played and written, you would expect a caricature of the person to be shown but he's portrayed as human and some of the decisions he makes can be seen as having a genuine concern for the family or the girl, equally they can be seen as self-motivating and thoroughly immoral.

The script is superbly written and is filled with subtlety and nuance that makes for a highly intelligent adult thriller which really delivers on tension and uncertainty throughout, plus it is based on actual events making this whole story even more unsettling and effective.

Àlex Brendemühl, who plays the doctor, is not the only strong actor as both the girl, played by Florencia Bado, and the photographer, played by Elena Roger, stand out to help draw the audience to them and to the story.

Wakolda is a highly recommended film that has a fantastic script behind it which will capture you and twist your expectations and emotions.

More from the Glasgow Film Festival 2014 on Filmstalker
More from other festivals on Filmstalker
UK IMDB Film Details
Wakolda: The German Doctor has already been released in a number of countries from late in 2013 and is going to be released throughout 2014 in Canada, Taiwan, Greece, Italy, US and the UK.
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Thank you for a great review, it was a pleasure to read. I too enjoyed the movie and I loved how the tension was constructed by the director. I was not surprised to hear that the movie also represented Argentina at the Academy Awards.

Thanks Matt, my pleasure, the film deserved my clumsy words.

Good point too, at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences of Argentina the film won ten awards and was nominated for six further awards, no wonder they nominated it for their submission to represent Argentina at the American Academy Awards.



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