Daily | Cannes 2013 | Lucia Puenzo’s WAKOLDA



In her most recent dispatch from Cannes to the New York Times, Manohla Dargis called Lucia Puenzo‘s Wakolda “a creepy, commercial thriller from Argentina about Nazis hiding in Patagonia in 1960… Working from her own novel, also titled Wakolda, Ms. Puenzo—who was last at Cannes with the coming-of-age story XXY—creates an eerie world of family secrets and state lies that grows increasingly scary when it emerges that a friendly stranger may be Josef Mengele.”

“The film could have played like a conspiracy thriller,” notes Screen‘s Mark Adams, “but Puenzo favors subtle and slowly evolving drama, gradually revealing the darker and dangerous character of the seemingly genial German doctor Helmut Gregor (Alex Brendemuhl), who turns out to be Mengele. He meets an Argentinean family in Patagonia, and intrigued by their diminutive daughter Lilith (a strong performance by newcomer Florencia Bado) follows them on their desert journey to Bariloche where Eva (Natalia Oreiro) and Enzo (Diego Perretti) and their three children are set to open a lodging house on the Nahuei Huapi lake.”

“One subplot involves Mengele’s offer to help the father, Enzo, manufacture dolls that he has been designing in his spare time,” notes Chuck Tryon at Filmmaker. “Where Enzo seems to lovingly craft the dolls, placing beating hearts inside them that he hopes will render them unique, Mengele’s approach is something closer to mass production, where every baby shares the same traits and no imperfections of any kind. The result is an uncanny row of identical, plastic, artificial dolls that evoke Mengele’s more sinister ambitions.”

And it’s this subplot that “gives rise to striking shots,” notes Bénédicte Prot at Cineuropa, “like the one in which the translucent gaze of Lilith is filmed next to the blue eyes of the hideous dolls with blond human hair. This intimate and disturbing juxtaposition, which is played out in the ‘colony’ in the surreal and nearly nightmarish atmosphere that is Bariloche, is the beating heart of the film.”

The Buenos Aires Herald reports that before the screening, which was met with a standing ovation, Cannes artistic director Thierry Frémaux “presented the Argentine delegation, which included producer Luis Puenzo—Lucía’s father and celebrated filmmaker. Frémaux remembered that Puenzo was the director of La historia oficial (The Official Story)—the first Argentine movie to win an Academy Award in 1985—and that the film was about the military dictatorship in Argentina in the late 70s. When Frémaux said that ‘former dictator Jorge Rafael Videla died last week,’ applause broke out in the audience.”

Variety‘s John Hopewell reports that Wakolda, “which world premiered this week in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard, is rolling out upbeat international sales, in another sign of an upturn in the arthouse market.”

Update, 5/27: In the Hollywood Reporter, Deborah Young finds “the story-telling is a little too pat to deliver the surprise moments that reveal character or sweep audiences up emotionally. The film remains a creepy story with a lot of morbid fascination, set off by the captivating young Florencia Bado in her first screen role.”

Update, 5/31: The “premise could be just juicy enough to earn writer-director Lucia Puenzo’s third feature a modest international audience,” writes Variety‘s Peter Debruge, “though she goes about the execution all wrong, leadenly reverse-engineering her plot from a reveal that the vast majority of audiences will know from the get-go.”

Update, 6/1: “Those well versed in WWII history that are aware of the unspeakable experiments Mengele performed on twins, his favorite obsession, not to mention the well documented experiments he continued to practice on pregnant women while he hid out in South America, will perhaps find Wakolda all the more chilling,” writes Nicholas Bell at Ioncinema. “Others will find Puenzo’s marked lack of character development makes the film a bit muted.”

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