Lucia Puenzo’s controversial new film is a thriller of sorts that really failed to thrill me in any way. Based partly on fact, it centres around a family living in Patagonia in the 1960s who are unexpectedly befriended by a German doctor. This doctor, it turns out, is actually Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele in hiding. He takes an unhealthy interest in their daughter Lilith and in the father’s hobby of making steampunk dolls with creepy beating hearts.
I’m not up on my post-second-world-war Nazi manhunt history, so I can’t comment on the factual accuracy of it all, but what I can say is that the finer details seemed a little far-fetched. The fact he was in Latin America in this period has been proved in many historical documents. However, I can’t relate in any way to a family that would allow their youngest daughter to be experimented on by a complete stranger who is quite obviously in hiding, especially when that man is German and it is known that Nazi war criminals are in hiding in South America. And you’re in South America. And he’s a creep that wants to experiment with drugs on your daughter.
The acting also left a lot to be desired. The normally animated Brendemuhl (Mengele) pitches his character as too wooden and fails to elicit the correct level of hatred that is required. Indeed, for large periods of the film it feels like we are being encouraged to feel empathy for him, which in my eyes is quite divisive. Perhaps the director should be praised for being brave and allowing the actor to portray him as something other than a cinema-standard psychopath. For me, the result is just a little bit directionless.
Wakolda has won awards at festivals all around the world and perhaps the global appeal is down to the fact it is a story that involves the history of so many people’s countries. On the pure level of looking at it as a convincing and effective story in its own right, I think it falls short. It certainly wasn’t a roller-coaster ride and I didn’t really feel much for the characters, so when the story reached its climax I just didn’t feel overly engaged.
Wakolda is out now in selected cinemas across the UK.