The German Doctor
Directed by: Lucía Puenzo
Written by: Lucía Puenzo
Starring: Natalia Oreiro, Àlex Brendemühl, Diego Peretti, Florencia Bado
February 2014 (USA)
FILM REVIEW BY LINNDA DURRE'
Based on a true story, Argentinian film, "The German Doctor", written and directed by Lucia Puenzo from her own speculative novel and shot by Nicolas Puenzo, is loaded with symbolism and the film begins with ominous thunder and lightning in the background. Twelve year old Lillith and her father, pregnant mother, and two other siblings are on their way to Bariloche to run their family resort in Argentina when they meet a German doctor, played with quiet subtlety by Alex Brendermuhl, who follows them with their permission and arrives at their huge lakeside hotel, where he becomes their first paying guest. He has connections with the hospital down the road.
With the keen fascination and curious observation of a child, Lillith follows him to sneak peeks at the hospital patients who have their faces swathed in bandages as they walk around the grounds, escorted by nurses or by orderlies who navigate them in wheelchairs. She spies on the doctor and comes to his new clinic, where he lets her in.
A seaplane lands on the lake and departs soon after. Something is amiss and the doctor emanates such strange, sinister vibes, we know he's a villain. So put together 1960 + Argentina + a sinister German Doctor and guess what/who the answer is? Josef Mengele.
Lillith enrolls in the local school where she is taunted for being "a runt" much smaller than her 12 years would reveal. She hates being so much shorter than her classmates. She retreats to the library where she makes friends with the librarian, who goes into town to pick up the mail and ends up decoding messages. One says something like, "Eichmann now, Mengele next."
During her social time, the librarian flirts with the doctor's associate whom she meets at the local bar and restaurant, where she dances with him, and gets cozy.
Over the radio comes the announcement of the capture of Adolph Eichmann in Argentina. He was kidnapped and brought directly back to Israel.
The doctor tells Lillith's mother that he can give Lillith injections that could spur her growth. The father refuses, but the mother goes behind her husband's back and approves the plan.
The father is a maker of unique, hand painted dolls, each with their own flaxen hair and personality, with a small compartment in their chest for their heart, each individually made. The doctor makes a business proposal to the father that he can make more money if the dolls are mass produced in a factory. Soon his lovely dolls are replaced by assembly line creations - they all look exactly alike, they have real blonde human hair and blue eyes. Thud, goes the ton of bricks in the symbolism department.
The girl grows due to the injections and her menstrual period finally starts. The doctor spies on Lillith, watching her kissing a boy her age, and continues to display unnatural desires for the 12 year old girl.
Meanwhile, the doctor has found that the mother is carrying twins and is giving the mother "vitamin shots" - only not telling her that one twin is getting a different injection than the other.
We see glimpses of the doctor's notebooks - careful anatomical drawings of the girl, of the twins in utero, of animals and people he has worked on with careful records and statistics associated with each case. Chilling at best.
The father discovers that the mother has betrayed him and authorized the daughter's growth treatments and explodes, forbidding the doctor to touch his child again. The mother goes into labor and delivers the twins, one being much smaller and sicker than the other. The doctor's intentions and treatments are revealed and he is asked to leave their hotel.
In order not to have the twins die, he assigns his nurse to take equipment, formula, and medicine to the mother's hotel room to nourish her and the twins since she is not producing much breast milk and their lungs are not sufficiently developed.
His associate has given him a passport and papers with a different name - one that he requested - so he can leave. The seaplane awaits.
The librarian has notified the authorities who arrive in their cars too late to capture him. As the seaplane ascends into the sky, we know that Josef Mengele escaped and he eluded capture until his death in 1979 at the age of 67. In the end titles, we learn that the librarian has been killed.
This is Lucia Puenzo's third film and it won a berth in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival.
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