During World War 2, a German Doctor named Josef Mengele conducted inhuman experiments on the captive POWs of Auschwitz. Whilst many of his colleagues were found and put on trial for their crimes against humanity, Dr. Mengele escaped.
Set in the 1960s, Wakolda is the story of Dr. Mengele as he methodically ingratiates himself into the lives of an Argentinian family so he can continue his work on their daughter Lilith who, born prematurely, suffers from postnatal underdevelopment. Wakolda is adapted from the book of the same name and directed by its author, Lucia Puenzo. Set in a large guest house, nestled in the mountains, the story unfolds slowly but with great attention to detail as the manipulative yet charismatic Mengele convinces Lilith’s mother to allow him to carry out tests behind the father’s back.
Puenzo has a great eye for setting a scene. The shots of the rocky landscape sit perfectly between interior shots and match up beautifully with the music of Andres Goldstein and Daniel Tarrab, creating an atmospheric and serene backdrop to this slow-burning story. The notable inclusion of Dirty Three’s Warren Ellis in collaboration with Nick Cave make the soundtrack a formidable opponent to any blockbuster out now.
The main cast have a challenging task capturing the underlying tension that exists beneath the film’s pleasant surface. Alex Brendemuhl’s Mengele is understated and sharp in his delivery; you’d never trust him, but you go along with a lot of what he does almost on auto-pilot. His relationship with Lilith (Florencia Bado) is fueled with an intense want that almost slips into lust. They have a flirtatious connection in the opening minutes that leaves the viewer uneasy, but it is soon apparent that Mengele is purely looking for the ‘perfect specimen’ for his experiments. Bado is a fantastic young actress who treads the line between childhood and adolescence very well in a number of difficult scenes.
The theme of Nazi domination is spread throughout the piece but not shoved down our throats. We are made aware of the past and allowed to let this knowledge frame our appreciation of the story. The ideas of a ‘perfect race’ are mirrored excellently by the father’s doll-making business that Mengele himself finances. The original concept of individuality in the father’s dolls (Wakolda, the doll that gives its name to the film, is Lilith’s favourite, being one of a kind) is lost to the mass production of identical dolls. There is even a moment where the father is seduced by their perfection. When asked if he wants any defining features on the dolls he replies: “No. I want them spotless.”
This personal story of a family set within a wider historical context leaves a similar impression to Pan’s Labyrinth left, albeit without the fantasy element. The commendable acting and nuanced script make for an enthralling journey into these people’s lives and Wakolda itself well worth the trip.
Walkoda is due out in the UK on August 8th, 2014.