By contributing blogger Benjamín Harguindey
Wakolda goes to places few Argentine movies dare: that of postwar Nazi collaborationism, sanctioned by the government and, in the interest of this movie, society overall. It is both a critique and an acknowledgement of a society that was willing to trade moral ground for Nazi know-how and personal benefit. Here’s a movie about a middle-class family lulled into complacency by one such Nazi refugee – Josef Mengele of all people, who hid in plain sight in Argentina throughout the ‘50s and early ‘60s.
Director Lucía Puenzo is known for adapting her own novels into feature-length movies, though by her own admission, “as I wrote the book I had no idea there’d be a movie afterwards. There must’ve been 15 or 17 screenplay drafts. It changed a lot along the way”. The story is set in the gorgeous, Swiss-like, doll-house landscape of Bariloche and focuses on a girl called Lilith (Florencia Bado), a pubescent child trapped in the body of a pre-pubescent one. Her growth impediment is taken for a defect by her mother Eva (Natalia Oreiro), who enlists the aid of one German gentleman (Álex Brendemühl) with a genetic manipulation fetish to fix her up.
The story works on a number of levels. It is a portrait of the mutual fascination held between a nymph on the verge of sexual awakening and an older man obsessed with cooking up the perfect body type. That Lilith’s father Enzo (Diego Peretti) is a doll-maker who believes in the uniqueness of each doll only adds to the irony of Lilith’s dilemma: does she accept and cherish the heterogeneous fabric of mankind, or does she fall to the spell of uniform Aryan perfection? In the meantime, Mengele slowly sweet-talks Enzo into transforming his one-man doll-making operation into an en masse, industrialized production of identical dollies with machine hearts ticking inside.
This is not, by any means, a historically-founded movie. It incorporates both myth (the doll-making) and fact (such as the setting of the openly pro-nazi school Primo Capraro, and the real-life character of Nora Edloc, a Mossad agent on Mengele’s trail) in the creation of the story, which is really about Lilith and her family. Florencia Bado, handpicked out of 800 other girls, gives a top notch, eerie hybrid of a portrayal that mixes innocence and sexuality, as Inés Efrón did before her in Puenzo’s XXY (2007) and The Fish Child (El niño pez, 2009). Peretti and Oreiro, both usually associated with light-hearted comedies, transition seamlessly into their embittered roles. Yet the centerpiece is Brendemühl, who gets a head start for his remarkable resemblance to Mengele, but works up an unusually quiet and chilling portrayal of him.
The cast and crew of Wakolda held a press conference on September 2nd at the Village Recoleta theater, where director Lucía Puenzo talked about the movie’s production. “We presented the project a year ago at the Berlin Festival, and there was a certain resistance to it,” said Puenzo. “Everyone wanted to know why an Argentine would want to shoot this story. It bothered them. They had a sense of ownership about the story”
Puenzo also commented on the making of, which consisted of a week’s shooting in Buenos Aires and four to five weeks in Bariloche, where yet again the shot was met with certain reticence. “We’d get calls from locations, suddenly informing us we couldn’t shoot there,” said Puenzo. “There was a certain resistance on behalf of some people that the movie be shot in Bariloche, for obvious reasons”. She did highlight the participation of documentarian Carlos Echeverría, creator of the similarly-themed Silence Pact (Pacto de silencio, 2005), and that a large portion of the crew was comprised of many locals.
The movie premiered in Cannes, “where it was given a very warm reception and was sold to a lot of countries“. It is currently signed in on a slew of international film festivals – San Sebastián, Saint Petersburg, Tokyo – as well as Oslo. Wakolda was made in collaboration with production companies from Spain, France and Norway, but it marks the first Argentine-Norwegian co-production in history, courtesy of the SØRFOND film fund. It’s a great movie and appeals on counts of thrilling entertainment and social challenge.
It is scheduled for release in Argentina on September 19th, after which the movie will be released internationally in Spain, France, Italy, Norway, Brazil, USA, Swiss, Poland, Venezuela and Perú.