Within the same year, Puenzo made her debut as a director with the film, XXY Most of these pieces feature either queer or intersex characters. Through this practice, she attempts to resist heteronormative models of development. A common theme in her work, is the fascination with modulating the human body, much like how Hitler attempted to modulate a whole race. In the work that she creates, writes and directs, such as XXY and The German Doctor , she focuses on the question of medically modified bodies.
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In , she directed the film version of her first novel, The Fish Child she has written five so far, and Wakolda is the most recent. For a novel to be compressed into the typical running time of about 90 minutes requires some ruthless choices: characters to be compressed or dropped, subtleties to be ironed out. How much harder is it when the director is also the novelist, obliged to kill her own darlings?
Even if you know your characters inside out, you tend to be more [indulgent] with yourself. There are many things I tried not to kill in draft after draft, only because I liked them. A family — father Enzo, mother Eva and their three children, one of whom is year-old Lilith — stop at a petrol station on a long journey south into Patagonia, on their way to the Andean town of Bariloche.
A well-spoken man with a German accent who has also pulled in introduces himself as Dr Helmut Gregor and asks if he can follow them in his car as the road is said to be dangerous. Gradually we come to realise that Helmut is the notorious Nazi doctor Josef Mengele. Other changes — the loss of a subplot, the merging of two characters — have the effect of tightening the narrative, and on the whole it is the film more focused, with cleaner lines that works better.
The story is to some degree based on fact. Mengele did indeed flee to South America at the end of the Second World War, and spent the rest of his life there, dying in a swimming accident off the Brazilian coast in His later years were the subject of a far more sensationalised film, Franklin J. The Patagonian town of Bariloche, where most of Wakolda takes place, has particularly strong German connections.
Set on the shores of Lake Nahuel Huapi, in the foothills of the Andes near the border with Chile, it was founded by German immigrants and has long attracted settlers from Germany, Austria and Slovenia. With its mountainous, lakeside setting, ski slopes and Central European architecture, it could easily pass for a town in the Bavarian Alps. There are even persistent rumours that Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun found refuge there after There is no evidence, however, that Mengele ever stayed in Bariloche, although he was certainly in Argentina in the late s.
At the heart of the film is the relationship between Lilith and Mengele. Lilith, fiercely intelligent and independent-minded a performance of astonishing assurance from Florencia Bado in her screen debut , is fascinated by this soft-spoken man who shows her more attention than anyone else ever has. Eva agrees, albeit with misgivings, but her husband, suspicious of this man who converses with Eva in German which Enzo does not understand , refuses his permission.
The treatment goes ahead without his knowledge. Only gradually, as she starts to gain insight into his motives and guess at his past, does Lilith begin to mistrust her new friend. There was scope for melodrama here, but Puenzo avoids the temptation. Everything is changing in them, even before they realise it, and there is something very powerful about that process. When it becomes evident that Mengele is extending his inhumane experiments to her newborn twin brothers, the mood moves close to nightmare.
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Wakolda, directed by Lucía Puenzo