Wakolda Movie Review
Argentine filmmaker Lucia Puenzo takes a clever look at her nation's history with this charming but subtly chilling drama about events that never happened, but could have. As with her previous films XXY and The Fish Child, this story explores issues of identity and physicality from a young girl's perspective. And what it reveals about society at large is just as telling, mainly because the story is so intimate and honest.
It's set in 1960 Patagonia, where Eva and Enzo (Natalia Oneiro and Diego Peretti) are moving to the mountains to open a hotel along with their three children: teen Tomas (Alan Daicz), tiny 12-year-old Lilith (Florencia Bado) and youngster Polo. They drive north with German doctor Helmut (Alex Brendemuhl), who becomes the first long-term guest in their lakeside hotel. He also becomes fascinated by Lilith's underdevelopment: she looks like an 8-year-old, and he starts secret treatments to help her look closer to her true age. But his interest in the family continues with Enzo's doll-making hobby and, even more interestingly, the fact that Eva is pregnant with twins.
Early in the film, it becomes clear that Helmut is actually the escaped Nazi Josef Mengele, and that he's continuing his human experiments on this unsuspecting family. But since the story is told through Lilith's eyes, it's difficult to see Helmut as anything but concerned and helpful. Indeed, the entire community seems to be aware that Nazis are hiding all around them, but they don't really care as long as they're productive members of society. So it's Brendemuhl's subtly layered performance that reveals Helmut's darker willingness to break rules to fuel his research. Plus the interest of a local photographer (Elena Roger) who just might be a Nazi hunter in disguise.
The film's title refers to Lilith's beloved doll, handmade for her by her father. Helmut's curiosity about doll-making feels like a heavy-handed metaphor, but succeeds in bringing the undercurrents to the surface as Lilith can't help but feel that her own body is betraying her. And there are several other themes swirling under the surface to deepen the resonance, including the way parents are blithely allowing their children to grow up around war criminals. Puenzo also sharply conveys both the internal thoughts and spectacular mountain setting while developing a strong sense of post-war intrigue. Because even though this is a story about a villain hiding among normal people, it's even more potently about the often awkward connection we have with our own bodies.
Cast & Crew
Director : Lucia Puenzo
Producer : Lucia Puenzo, Stan Jakubowicz, Axel Kuschevatzky, Gudny Hummelvoll, Jose Maria Morales, Fabienne Vonier
Screenwriter : Lucia Puenzo