Is it necessary to offer a spoiler alert for a movie that doesn’t even try to keep a secret? I mean, it’s South America in the early 1960s, so really, who else could the title character of The German Doctor be?
Talented Argentine director Lucia Puenzo takes a page from Ira Levin’s playbook in her film about a family drawn into the orbit of a not-so-mysterious foreigner with a fixation on genetic manipulation – think The Boys From Brazil, but with the location switched to Patagonia and the tone shifted from globe-trotting adventure to creepy coming-of-age tale.
In lieu of suspense about the true identity of the handsome, mustachioed physician (Alex Brendemhul) who has set up shop in South America (he might as well have a sign around his neck reading “I’m really Josef Mengele”), Puenzo cultivates a creeping sense of dread. We’re cued to worry about what the not-so-good doctor might do to impressionable, diminutive Lilith (Florenica Bado), a 12-year old intrigued by the visitor’s gentlemanly manner (she can barely hide her crush) and his promises of treatments that can offset her hereditary growth defects. Heavy-handed metaphors abound in Puenzo’s screenplay (Lilith’s father laboyrs to create perfect porcelain dolls), and her directorial touch (which was deft and light in her debut feature XXY) is weighed down as a result. The German Doctor is skillfully made and acted, but without any sense of spontaneity or surprise – qualities required for any decent thriller.