Directed by: Lucía Puenzo
Starring: Florencia Bado, Àlex Brendemühl, Diego Peretti, Guillermo Pfening, Natalia Oreiro, Elena Roger
A very neat and tense exploration of the twisted psyche and dramatic history portrayed in this film makes it a more than worthwhile feature to watch. There’s an obvious steaming rise of tension throughout and not knowing the way the story develops beforehand truly helps the mystery along in a much bigger way.
So, without spoiling it in case you happen to choose to watch it - and I recommend you do, even just to see how dread can manifest brilliantly in cinema - here’s the plot. It is 1960 and moving to a South American hotel are a family including Enzo and his German speaking wife Eva. They help show the way to a calm and apparently thoughtful kind stranger who returns on having a fascination with their daughter Lilith, a 12 year old who is small for her age. As this man stays at the hotel it could be an interest not wished to be re-awoken.
I’d briefly seen a small titbit of what the narrative entailed but hadn’t completely clicked what I’d read. I’m more than glad for this as it made the discovery more impactful, and knowing the truth behind the figure at least makes it a troubling thing to swallow. The story may be fiction but the man is horrifying fact and the film does a sterling job of making that unnerving sense of whirling discomfort felt in nearly every second of its near 90 minute running time. There’s also a clever connection of factory dolls and the study of human growth as some child-like wonder for the suspenseful doctor.
The music score by Andres Goldstein and Daniel Tarrab is a fantastic addition to the building of dramatic dread. It almost feels as if it’s plinking away with the piano and burning you up with the shrill yet somewhat all too relaxing strings. The score accompanies the chilled yet dark-centred stranger with perfect symmetry.
The only downside I can sort of link to this movie is if you don’t know about the period or the person in question then the shocking realisation may never hit, and the entire film could feel a slow burner for nothing. It has some moments too that feel stitched on; the back and forth in seeing Lilith’s school life isn’t of much interest and we could get the bullying thing without seeing it happen repeatedly.
The acting in this film is a restrained but polished affair with Florencia Bado and Alex Brendemuhl as Lilith and –cough-cough- respectively, shining in their growing interests to one another’s lives. Brendemuhl plays that chilling yet welcoming presence with knack and the way he carries himself really works in the confidence this man must have had in what he’d done.
A very good, quiet, taut depiction of a thrilling real life villain, not ground breaking or hugely effective as a thriller or historic picture, but unnerving and awash with a cold to the bone atmosphere nonetheless.
In an interview, director Lucia Puenzo makes it clear that her main push was in the story of Lilith’s fascination with this German doctor, a more innocent look than how he in turn views her. It’s interesting to realise that the director started out this story as a novel; it’s therefore evident that this is her brainchild and it works to see her take the journey from page to screen in an effective manner.
She goes on to say how the diary of her antagonist was an inclusion she was keen to have, thanks to her studying of history seeing how this man was so precise in the things he did. The images of drawings and notes are another positive in the film and add goosebumps when you see pencilled images of children and the family he’s being accommodated by. This Argentine director opens your eyes further, using the little girl Lilith as the viewpoint. As she tumbles into this pro-Nazi environment, it’s clear brooding trouble will follow.
Puenzo also states how the obsession of crafting the perfect race and the difference of the world back then helped make the world of her film easier to understand. The 16 minute interview is a really fresh short insight into her work and thoughts and the shedding of light on Nazi schools and easy movement of the real man are thoroughly interesting. It’s also an interesting point to hear what she says about the fictional photographer involved in the film. A helpful extra that leads you to see what Lucia Puenzo had in mind and how she went about putting across the growing awareness of sex and politics in the case of her main character, Lilith.
How We Did It - The Music is a slightly underperforming special feature that could have done so much better. All on offer here is visuals of Goldstein and Tarrab conducting, playing and others playing violins, guitars, pianos etc. It would have been nice to hear what they had in mind for certain choices of instruments.
The only bonus to this ridiculously short, near pointless extra is getting to hear the bubbling music raise the bar of dread once more.
In How We Did It - Special Effects we see what little bits and pieces were actually crafted by computer and not done for real. For example, seeing the landscape digitally entered or the biplane being visually put in shows how CGI is a growing trend, even for a film that you wouldn’t necessarily expect had much or any whatsoever.
It just goes to show how many movies need it now, even just to help add or delete layers, rid shadows, include texture or weather etc etc. I guess even if this extra feature is short and lacking in commentary it’s sort of cool to see what was done in post-production.