LIFF27 - Wakolda - Cinema Review

'The looming of Brendemühl feels like it is representative of something else; a pervading ideology which, though we may feel we have comfortably destroyed, still exists in certain corners.'

Wakolda (also known as The German Doctor) is dominated by two things; Àlex Brendemühl's fantastic double-breasted grey coat, and Àlex Brendemühl's fantastic moustache. There are two things that connotate evilness when the option isn't available to cast someone who's British; fantastic dress sense and terrific facial hair.

Bumping in to his character whilst travelling to a new life running a Patagonian hotel, young Lilith (Florencia Bado) and her family initially befriend him, particularly her mother, Eva (Natalia Oreiro), who hopes he might be able to help her underdeveloped daughter.

Quite how evil Brendemühl's character is from this point proves to be a large part of what Lucía Puenzo's film is about. There's a pervading air, not of dread, but of something between interest, intrigue and incredibly personal threat. Brendemühl doesn't just wear fantastic levels of personal attire; he hulks around the screen subtly, lurking, striding; essentially doing everything but cause a scene, intimidate anyone or draw attention to himself. It's a performance that's both well-pitched and perfectly in tune with what the film wants to do. When he does eventually break out, threatening someone towards the film's finale, the promise of his power - both physical and psychological - is seen visibly for the first time, Puenzo shooting Brendemühl to make him look bigger and more imposing.

Whilst the physicality of Brendemühl looms over the film, there is something else here which proves to be even more of a presence in Wakolda. The looming of Brendemühl feels like it is representative of something else; a pervading ideology which, though we may feel we have comfortably destroyed, still exists in certain corners. The character serves not only as an semi-antagonist and plot driver, but also as a representative of the fact that getting rid of evil is never a simple equation, solved through simple violent deeds. A conversation the character has with Klaus (Guillermo Pfening), in an abandoned and destroyed shelter, shows that this type of thinking can survive even obvious and apparently final destruction.

With that element of the film realised so completely, it's a shame that it falls down slightly in other areas. The decision to have Brendemühl get overly involved with the production of idealised dolls by Lilith's Father (Diego Peretti) feels like a piece of symbolism gone too far; one of a handful Puenzo's film indulges in. More significant to the film as a whole, the introduction of Nora (Elena Roger) as a key character is muddled and brings the film into a genre Puenzo had clearly been hoping to avoid for long stretches, whilst too often Lilith and her life feel like a distraction to the more interesting things happening elsewhere.

The genrelessness that features before that point will alienate some but stick with it; Wakolda is a film that gives up its secrets eventually, though it does unfortunately muddle some of its finer points whilst doing so.

Wakolda plays LIFF again on Thursday 14th at 20.30 in Vue.

The 27th Leeds International Film Festival (LIFF) takes place from the 6th-21st November at cinemas around the city, including Hyde Park Picture House and Leeds Town Hall. Tickets and more information are available via the official LIFF website.

By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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