Based on the true story featured in Lucía Puenzo’s novel of the same name, Wakolda forgoes the easily accessible blatancy of Nazi villainy in favour of an altogether more personal arrangement. By restraining the viewer through spates of singular perspective, Wakolda is often tinged with a foreboding sense of realism. As such, Wakolda’s considered malefactor takes on a much greater world relevance, with evil just beyond the frame. Though Mengele’s (Brendemühl) perversion is never entirely absent from the audience’s scrutiny, it’s never wholly made certain either. The tonal effect of this near uncertainty creates a much richer space, in which apprehension reigns dominant and unchallenged through lack of confirmation. However, it is not just Mengele’s hidden fanaticism that holds responsibility for Wakolda‘s well-tempered discomfort; Argentina’s post-war social landscape is just as much to blame as Puenzo mixes racial zealotry with equal parts shame. The relevance of genetic purity in regards to human form seeps into every part of Wakolda‘s cultural landscape – often brought to life with allegorical perfection. Puenzo’s use of Mengele’s fabled “living” porcelain dolls gratifyingly underscores the inauthenticity of his pseudo-scientific Nazi idealism. Although little is said outright, Puenzo’s trust in the viewer to seek out Wakolda‘s undoubted symbolic intentions gives an overall greater rise to its thematic resonance.
This lack of forthright sensationalism carries over to more than just narrative construction, however. Wakolda‘s terse exploration of evil within banality finds itself in front and behind the camera. Though slow, pace is kept constant throughout, respectfully mirroring equally unobtrusive performances. Mengele’s subdued charm rings out despite the obvious pointing to the contrary, seamlessly flitting in and out of benevolent enthusiasm and morbid fixation. In response to this, Nicolás Puenzo’s achingly beautiful cinematography tightens and relaxes its grasp upon Wakolda‘s central antagonist, obsessing within Wakolda‘s thematically constricting interiors, only to once again fall loosely observant upon Argentina’s visually emancipating panoramas. Despite being formally fluent in its pursuit of tempering sought anxiety, Wakolda rarely pursues the same control amongst its more readily adjacent protagonists. Although Lilith (Florencia Bado) plays relative naivety in regards to Mengele’s interference, her parents show little in the same regard, forcing regrettable intermittence against a conflictingly more guarded, fluid sense of tension. Brendemühl easily manoeuvres the narrow space between cool nonchalance and broken rage however, constantly inhabiting the breadth between, never fully committing to either. It’s in this cinematic mantra that Puenzo succeeds; the rift between sense and deserved action is openly at play, forever refusing to bridge the gap to consequence.