The promise of perfection leads to disaster for an Argentinean family in 1960 Patagonia in The German Doctor, a fictionalized account of one clan’s run-in with notorious Auschwitz psychopath Dr. Josef Mengele.
Adapting her own novel, writer-director Lucía Puenzo keeps the evil physician’s identity a secret for the first half of her story, in which Mengele (Àlex Brendemühl) meets and takes a liking to Lilith (Florencia Bado), a 12-year-old girl with a growth disorder, and consequently decides to stay at the hotel run by her father, Enzo (Diego Peretti), and pregnant-with-twins mother, Eva (Natalia Oreiro).
Soon, Mengele is experimenting on both Lilith and Eva, with Puenzo insinuating that Eva welcomes these hormone trials because her indoctrination at a pro-Nazi school has left her drawn, subconsciously, to eugenics-inspired ideals. Enzo is also eventually seduced by Mengele’s ethos when he allows the doctor to finance his porcelain doll-making business (every figurine shall look exactly the same!), a symbolically on-the-nose development that builds to full-on melodramatic overkill.
Puenzo dramatizes her material with an overcooked sense of import that generates scant suspense, even once Israeli agents close in on their Nazi prey. Meanwhile, Lilith’s hindsight narration, which plays over shots of the villain’s twisted medical notebooks, merely further amplifies the action’s borderline-tawdry mood of psychosexual ghoulishness.