Of all the sick Nazis whose names have gone down in history as an unforgettable reminder of that period’s infamy, surely one of the very worst is the Auschwitz doctor Josef Mengele. One can only imagine this mad “scientist” given thousands of live subjects he could submit at will to his experiments, pulling out eyes, cutting out hearts and other organs without anesthesia, conjoining twins, using benighted and shaky science under the guise of anthropomorphic progress toward a perfect Aryan race.
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Based on a true story, Lucía Puenzo’s “Wakolda,” (English title, “The German Doctor”), this character (Àlex Brendemühl) is at the center of the sober retelling of his relation, in Patagonia, with a family he befriends. His ulterior motives are to continue his pet projects or obsessions—use a growth hormone on Lilith, a twelve year-old short for her age, study the twins carried by the mother. The family plays along, for various reasons, gradually realizing who the man is (an unnecessary side plot has Mengele helping the father set up up a business manufacturing perfect dolls, a metaphor that doesn’t quite work.)
“The German Doctor” is one instance of the viewer wishing for revised history. We know Mengele was never caught but keep hoping that the Israelis hard on his heels will find the mad doctor and bring him to justice as they have just done in their daring capture of Eichmann. Instead, he makes his getaway, the camera giving us one more sweeping view of the lake and snowy peaks that greatly enhance the film, which the grandiose music doesn’t (to be released in April 2014).
“The German Doctor” was shown as part of the 2013 Cannes Festival.