THE GERMAN DOCTOR
⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Rated: PG-13 for thematic material and brief nudity. In subtitled German, Spanish and Hebrew.
It's not a mystery exactly. The setting is Argentina in 1960, so who could the punctilious, sharp-eyed transplanted German physician be but Josef Mengele, the concentration camp fiend with a penchant for human experiments? No one in the cast seems to be able to puzzle out his identity, however. The local family that finds him insinuating his spooky/helpful way into their lives doesn't know what to make of him, the staff at the über-Aryan German immersion school in the province looks the other way, and the only character with much investigative gumption, an inquisitive photographer, moves slowly to build her case. Writer/director Lucia Puenzo has a firm grasp on atmospherics. She injects every encounter between the dubious doctor (coolly unnerving Alex Brendemuhl) and his host family's 12-year-old daughter (Elena Roger) with a predatory vibe. His journal entries, with disturbingly detailed sketches of genetic experiments and vivisected bodies, raise acres of gooseflesh. And the porcelain doll factory the doctor finances, with its tiny body parts in assembly-line review, makes for a chilling Auschwitz metaphor. There's a palpable air of paranoia in this elegantly produced chiller but it builds to a disappointingly inconclusive payoff.
⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Unrated: Brief nudity.
Matt Wolf's historical documentary does a fine job of avoiding played-out imagery as it charts the invention of adolescence. Wolf presents that purgatorial zone between childhood and maturity as a tug-of-war between adrenaline-surging exuberance and various channels of social control. The teen years began to be seen as a special period of life in the early 20th century, when England's Boy Scouts movement was created to tame disruptive urban hooligans. The film follows that nation's youth fads and fashions, alongside those of Germany and the United States, into their clashes in two world wars and beyond. There's a kaleidoscopic approach to the material, but brief portraits of recognizable personalities. There is a quick sketch of a notorious titled English party girl, whose drug-fueled escapades made her the Lindsay Lohan of her era. A dutiful adolescent German overachiever finds her identity and purpose as a publicist for the Hitler Youth. A black American Boy Scout describes his resentment of prejudiced bullies. The kids seen here in archival and re-enacted footage are always in motion, marching off to war almost as enthusiastically as they dance. For all its energy, though, this is a rather somber, elegiac picture. Generation after generation, the old turn the young into cannon fodder, and the hopeful newcomers who expect to change the world fall into their forefathers' dead-end paths. Youth, this handsome film tells us, always has been a time of struggle, and always will be.