Dr. Donna Copeland’s
The German Doctor was Argentina’s official Academy Award foreign language submission. The film wasn’t nominated, but it’s a very dramatic look into the true story of a family who spent months with the infamous Dr. Mengele. Functioning like Hitchcock-lite, or a suspense thriller without obvious motives, The German Doctor plays really well for a new generation that knows little or nothing about The Angel of Death, as he came to be called. This film, directed by Lucia Puenzo, focuses more on the family that unknowingly lived with the doctor as he offered free medical advice and care. Puenzo does an excellent job at building the unsettling suspense.
In 1960 as an Argentinian family journeys south to their lake home in Patagonia, which is a hotel they are renovating, they are met by a German foreigner (Àlex Brendemühl) who asks to follow them to the south, where he will be starting a new practice. The father of the household, a porcelain doll maker, is the only one who keeps his distance from the doctor, who explains he will be doing animal trials and testing nearby. The expectant mother Eva (Natalia Oreiro) and the 12-year-old daughter Lilith (Florencia Bado), who suffers from a growth deficiency, find the doctor fascinating and are very willing to have him care for them.
I think I might have been more interested in the onset of the film if I had known what it was about. Some viewers/critics like little to no information about the subject matter, but I, on the other hand, like all the information up front so I can pay more attention to other elements I might otherwise miss while trying to figure out the story. The German Doctor doesn’t get off to a particularly exciting or interesting start. The first suggestion that there is something very wrong here is the look the local archive photographer gives the camera when she first spots the doctor who has arrived in town. The suspense begins from that moment as the naive women in the family begin to completely trust him with their well-being.
The mechanical hearts in the dolls, the doctor’s willingness to help this family, everything really works together to increase the creep factor. The direction of the film to focus on the young girl and her point of view gives the camera the innocent and naive perspective is a strong narrative decision. The script also allows the viewer to fill in the blanks, and with a PG-13 rating this film could be a useful tool in schools, where most of the films concerning the Nazi’s are overrated and out of date. The performances here are not award worthy, but adequate for the film. The location and setting of the film is stunning, but the low grade camera doesn’t make for beautiful cinematography.
Final Thought – A captivating suspense thriller on one of the world’s most dangerous doctors.
By: Dustin Chase
This is a great quiet thriller written and directed by Argentinian Lucia Puenzo, a drama based on Josef Mengele’s escape from Germany to South America after WWII. He is the Nazi who conducted human experiments on the Jews at Auschwitz, with no regard for their protection. He truly believed in a superior race and attempted to do nature one better by trying to create one.
The story opens with a family traveling from Buenos Aires to a small town to reclaim a hotel in the country that has been left to the mother. On the way, they encounter a man going in their direction who asks politely if he can follow them on an isolated, dangerous stretch of road. He says his name is Helmut Gregor. The father Enzo (Peretti) accedes, and they start off, but encounter a heavy rainstorm and stop for the night at a home along the way that gives them shelter. And this is where Puenzo’s art is immediately apparent. The stranger is very soft-spoken but polite and shows an interest in the 12 year-old daughter, Lilith (Bado), who is small for her age; the rainstorm is threatening and dark. Puenzo conveys a sense of dread right from the beginning.
All seems to go well, however; the stranger (played by Alex Brendemuhl) is a doctor for animals but seems to know about treatments for humans. He proposes being their first guest in the hotel, and although Enzo maintains a suspicious attitude toward him, he agrees, since the man offers to pay for his stay up front, and the family could use the money. Also, the mother in the family, Eva (Oreiro), is pregnant, and it would be nice to have a doctor near to their rather isolated home.
Complexities are introduced by the doctor’s taking an interest in Lilith’s short stature, and his offer to treat her so she will grow normally. Enzo forbids this, but because Lilith is mercilessly teased at school, Eva surreptitiously allows the doctor to treat her, and indeed she does start growing. Further complexities enter in when Eva has twins prematurely, and the doctor offers his resources to help them survive. And still further, the man offers to invest in Enzo’s business of making dolls for children. He argues that they could reap huge profits by reproducing a whole line of dolls without a single flaw.
In addition to Enzo, there is a photographer (Roger) in town who is curious about the doctor, and she does some research on her own, aware that the Israeli Mossad is relentlessly pursuing Nazis who have fled from Germany. This introduces the thrill of the chase, which adds to the dread.
The German Doctor is a taut drama that mixes warm human interest, childhood joy and pain, and adult conflict seamlessly with a sense of dread that proceeds like a Greek play—ominous, with brief respites along the way.