Each month, the Indie Prof reviews a current film in the theater and a second film that is available on DVD or an instant-streaming service.
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The German Doctor (2013)
The German Doctor tells the story of Josef Mengele, the notorious Nazi doctor who experimented on prisoners of Auschwitz, while he was on the run in Argentina circa 1960. The fictional account is based in some fact: Mengele spent time in Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil before dying in 1979. The story’s events take place during a short stay in Patagonia, where there was a large former-Nazi contingent pretty much left alone by the Argentine government. While the film does not explicitly dabble in politics, the implicit condemnation of Argentina’s former policies come into question by the supremely talented Argentine director Lucía Puenzo.
It is how Puenzo goes about that criticism that makes the film so fascinating. The beginning of the film finds Mengele making his way to the town of Bariloche, across the beautiful and majestic expanse of Patagonia. When he stops at a store for supplies, he meets an Argentine family and follows them into the town. He befriends them (except for the skeptical father), and ends up staying in their newly opened hotel. He immediately takes (a very creepy) interest in the family’s 12-year-old, a smallish girl who has a genetic deficiency that has slowed down her growth process. Of course, Mengele uses it as an opportunity to experiment. And here is Puenzo’s point: by looking the other way, the government put the Argentine people in jeopardy.
The German Doctor marks Puenzo’s third film and best yet. Her first two films were met with critical acclaim, and this third effort premiered at Cannes. Her style is becoming apparent: close character studies, a simple yet elegant cinematography, and magnificent acting that is the real force of the film. Florencia Bado as young Lilith is particularly good, exuding an innocence and sexuality that is both inviting and disturbing as the creepy doctor spends too much time with her. The film also gives us moments of “What would I do?” The first step: see the film. Starts Friday, May 9 at the Chez Artiste.
You will like this film if you enjoyed The Hunt, The Secret in Their Eyes, and/or The Official Story.
It is quite rare to find a “coming-of-age” story that is populated by interesting characters not directly out of central casting and who live in the same world as the rest of us. Mud, directed by Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter), gives us those characters and more. It tells the story of two young boys who encounter a fugitive hiding out on a small island in the middle of the Arkansas River. The boys befriend the man (Mud, played by Matthew McConaughey), and agree to help him while he waits for his girlfriend. As the police and a group of hired guns look for Mud, the boys’ situation becomes increasingly tense, mine-filled, and ends in spectacular fashion.
I reviewed Nichols’ Take Shelter last year and found it to be one of the best films of the past several years. Mud is a worthy follow-up to that first feature from Nichols, and it shows a steady hand with actors, strong story, quirky characters who don’t do what we think they’ll do, and surprising twists that leave us guessing. We also get one of the most poignant moments of realization I’ve ever seen: the moment a boy turns into a man happens in the most unlikeliest of places, and all without a word. That boy, Ellis, played by newcomer Tye Sheridan, grows before our eyes and changes into a man.
Sheridan is not the only stunning performance: McConaughey delivers another brilliant turn, Jacob Lofland as Ellis’ friend Neckbone glows in his screen debut, Reese Witherspoon finds her meatiest role since Election, and Sarah Paulson, Ray McKinnon, and Sam Shepard are all fantastic as secondary, but not flat, characters.
It is a treat to watch a film that is so well-written, well-directed, well-acted, and well-photographed that we become lost in the world of that film. Nichols not only has a bright future, he has a bright past and present, however brief. It will be fascinating to see his future films.
Now available on Netflix.
You will like this film if you enjoyed Take Shelter, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and/or Stand By Me.
This film, along with all other films I’ve reviewed, may be found at the Sam Gary Library. Look for the Indie Prof display at the end of the DVD racks.
Vincent Piturro, Ph.D., teaches Cinema Studies at Metropolitan State University of Denver. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.