On one level it was a good, but not great, film. On another, it was a remarkable film.
Let’s go to the second point first.
I couldn’t wait to get out of the theater and I was riveted to the film. The movie, the theater, the entire world was filled with dread the whole time I was watching. I have never been so uncomfortable, so suspicious of everything and everyone, as I was while watching “The German Doctor”.
Based on a novel about the post-war life of infamous Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, the film focuses on a six month period in 1960, after Mengele disappeared from Buenos Aires and before he resurfaced in Paraguay. It has him, using an alias of course, traveling to the remote Argentinian town of Bariloche, on a beautiful lake surrounded by the snow capped Andes, where (in real life) a large German community (including many Nazis) were living after the end of the Second World War. He attaches himself to a family re-opening a resort hotel on the lake, largely because of his interest in the 12 year old daughter who is under-developed and very small and on whom he has some experiments he would like to try. And then the girl’s mother was pregnant with twins – another Mengele specialty. The family does not guess the doctor’s true identity, although the father (from the beginning) and the mother (eventually) realize that he is not a simple doctor and that he is both dangerous and up to no good. Only a woman working at the local German school (a photographer and archivist, she is said to be) recognizes him from certain documents and photos she has hidden away, and tells someone by telephone to come get him. No one does.
So we have a frightening historical drama. But we have more. We have a coming of age story of a 12 year old girl in a 9 year old body, who is ready for adventure and is intrigued by the guest doctor. She looks forward to his growth drug experimentation. Anything to grow to a normal size.
The film is primarily Argentinian, and is in Spanish and German with subtitles. The cast contains no one I recognize, but it is an excellent cast. The setting is beautiful (almost too beautiful), but the cinematography keeps everything dark and muted – adding to, or perhaps creating, the over all mood of impending horror. The story itself is a little hard to swallow – but possible.
Of course, it is fiction. But fiction based on fact. Therefore, there can be no happily ever after ending. The Israelis capture Eichmann and whisk him out of the country. The Nazis know that Mengele is another target, and determine to whisk him out of Argentina as well, and send him on to Paraguay. He is scooped up by a hydroplane on the lake. His experiments in Bariloche go unfinished. The family is left to fend on their own. We know the young girl survived the experiments, because she is also the narrator of the story. We don’t know about the twins.
Shortly before his escape, Mengele realizes that the photographer/archivist is not a friend. He warns her that death is all around and that sometimes people turn up dead in the mountains in the snow, lying with their eyes open. In real life, Nora Edloc, an Israeli agent, was sent by Mossad to scout out Nazis in Bariloche and report back her findings. A month after Eichmann was taken out of Argentina, Edloc was found in the mountains, dead, lying with her eyes open.
This is a very spooky movie. You think that you are there in that environment of escaped Nazis in Argentina. You want to get out. You are afraid for the family. The film had a real effect on me. Most films don’t. This one is remarkable.