By Moira Sullivan.
Two films that sounded promising on Day 7 were clearly well made but lacked any compelling pull for the cineaste.
Lucía Puenzo’s Wakolda, a title referring to the name of a doll, promised a powerful story, but the narrative got flattened in the making of the film. For instance, the story about Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele hiding away in Argentina does not need dramatic violins, electric guitars, and percussion instruments to point out his diabolical methods. The beginning of the film would have been better silent, as an Argentine family makes their way on a long desert road towards their family home in Bariloche, followed by a treacherous Mengele.
Wakolda‘s central character is the 12-year-old girl Lilith (Florencia Bado) whose growth is stunted after a premature birth. Her family meets Mengele (Àlex Brendemüh), who acts as doctor in his new surroundings and takes an interest in putting Lillith on growth hormones and he also treats her pregnant mother Eva (Natalia Oreiro). One conspicuous contrast is that Lilith and Eve are totally trusting of Mengele, and although their father Enzo (Diego Peretti) is suspicious, he is unable to interrupt their medical treatment because of the positive results. He is also distracted by Mengele’s encouragement for him to make dolls with pumping hearts, a curious business venture masterminded by the German sociopath.
There are many questions posed by the director about how the Nazi criminals were hidden in Patagonia after the war, and in some cases known by the towns they lived in. Yet, the premise of Wakolda focuses on Mengeles’s experiments on pregnant women and his biomedical vision that was one of the founding principles of the Nazi movement. To the credit of director Puenzo, the horrific crimes of Mengele are visually translated with careful attention to scientific drawings and artefacts kept in a German boarding school. The school photographer, portrayed excellently by Elena Rogers, who is on to Mengele, is the only livewire on the ball during Mengele’s visit in the area. At least one of the circumstances is made clear by the film: Argentina knew of Nazi war criminals in the country but was reluctant to intervene and bring them to justice.
In the Director’s fortnight is yet another Sundance entry, We Are What We Are, which is not what I thought it would be. Director Jim Mickle takes a detour from today’s onscreen vampire saturation to present a tale of cannibalism within a religious family, complete with a sketchy historical rundown for this practice. In the beginning moments of the film, a leaf covered with raindrops and shown in close-up makes its way down a small stream in the wilderness. The scene foreshadows how the rain will eventually lead the law to exposing this flesh-eating enclave lead by Father Parker (Bill Sage).
In a small role, Kelly McGillis (The Accused (1988), Witness (1985)) acts as neighbour Marge, whose photo is not even in the press release. She is unrecognisable in the film but every much the veteran actress, with just too little to do. Veteran Michael Parks (Kill Bill Volume 2 (2004), Django Unchained (2012)) gets more screen time as Doc Barrow, but again has no photo. This is because the film is aimed at the young and hungry. Early on, the wife and mother of Father Parker’s children drowns in a ditch after hitting her head on a pipe. This is after we see her profusely bleeding from the mouth. As it turns out cannibalism is one of the factors that causes Parkinson’s disease. Doc Barrow discovers this and later his dog finds bones sticking out of the ground, and so the noose on the cannibalistic order tightens. Meanwhile, the emerging sexuality of Father Parker’s daughters is one of the preoccupations of the film, and as they grow to maturity they face the impending burden of taking over the family tradition. The question of whether they are interested or not in doing what it takes to abduct victims and eat them is left open.
Moira Sullivan is an accredited journalist at Cannes, member of FIPRESCI and served on the Queer Palm Jury 2012. She has a PhD in cinema studies at Stockholm University and studied filmmaking at San Francisco State University.