It's not exactly "Village of the Damned," but there are a disproportionate number of blond children and vacant looks in the German-immigrant enclave of Lucia Puenzo's "The German Doctor," as well as an outsized amount of willful blindness among its South American expats. A perfect place, in other words, for a fugitive Nazi war criminal, especially one whose fascination with blondes, twins and genetic "research" is more or less a calling card.
Yes, it's Dr. Josef Mengele -- actor Àlex Brendemühl's black smear of a mustache goes as far as to suggest Gregory Peck's own Angel of Death in "The Boys From Brazil" (1978), although Brendemühl bears a far closer resemblance to the real villain of Auschwitz. At a desert stopover at the base of the Andes, Mengele meets an Argentine couple, Eva (Natalia Oreiro) and Enzo (Diego Peretti), en route to their new home in a small town. They come to entrust him with their youngest, Lilith (Florencia Bado) -- an undersized girl who is assured by her new friend that he can help her grow. And perhaps "improve the race." Because, save for her size, she's a perfect "specimen." You know where this is going.
There are Mossad agents in the shadows, looking to bag the not-so-good doctor. Director Puenzo, daughter of Luis ("The Official Story") Puenzo, working from her own fact-based novel, does not try to psychoanalyze Mengele; to do so would be repellent. Instead, she portrays the world around him as a myopic accomplice to justice deferred. Which is not to say "The German Doctor" doesn't have its potboiler aspects. But amid the melodrama is a resonant, highly moral kind of horror movie.
PLOT In postwar Patagonia, the new neighbor is a notorious Nazi war criminal.
RATING PG-13 (thematic material and brief nudity)
CAST Àlex Brendemühl, Natalia Oreiro, Diego Peretti
BOTTOM LINE By not overanalyzing pure evil, Argentine director Lucia Puenzo produces a pure kind of monster movie. (In Spanish, German and Hebrew with English subtitles)