Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
Wakolda, known in English-speaking countries as The German Doctor, is an Argentine film directed by Lucía Puenzo, based on her own novel. Set in 1960, the film stars Àlex Brendemühl as the doctor, scientist and Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele, and depicts the time he spent in exile in South America following the end of World War II. Having adopted a new identity, Mengele moves into a Patagonian hotel run by German-speaking Eva and her husband Enzo. Unaware of his identity, Eva and Enzo welcome the hesitant romance that begins to develop between their daughter Lilith (Florencia Bado) and the handsome, charming foreigner; however, having won the family’s trust, Mengele finds himself renewing his interest in the human genetic research that cemented his terrible reputation during the war.
The score for Wakolda is by two veterans of the Argentine film music industry, composers Andrés Goldstein and Daniel Tarrab; the pair previously gained some international exposure following their scores for the 2004 film La Puta y la Ballena and the 2007 film XXY, but this score could really enhance their reputations internationally, if enough people have the opportunity to hear it.
The score is fairly small and intimate, written for a chamber orchestra augmented by percussion, electric cello and various electric and acoustic guitars, giving it a feeling that is somehow classical and modern simultaneously. There is also a slightly “off” feeling to much of the music, somehow insinuating that, despite appearances on the surface, things are not quite as innocent as they seem to be. A cue like “Just a Game”, for example, has an expressive acoustic guitar melody that is quite lovely, but the string sustains bubbling underneath give off a slight sense of unease. The same sort of feeling filters through the subsequent “The Journey”, where the orchestra is augmented by brushed snares and a moody, hooting duduk clarinet – again, attractive, but with a subtly anxious undercurrent.
The duduk becomes a much more prevalent timbre as the score goes on, almost acting as a leitmotif for Mengele’s twisted mind and sinister intentions. Its use in cues such as “Blood and Honor”, “Dolls Factory” and “The Persecution” allows the score to embrace the darkness of Mengele’s looming presence fully. Similarly, the regular return to the core thematic ideas and instrumental choices – guitar and percussion on top of the small string orchestra – in cues such as “Nazi’s Bunker” and “The End” allows the score to maintain its personal identity in a way that is very pleasing. One further standout cue is “The Hunt Has Begun”, a more strident and forceful piece featuring a more prominent piano element, which acts as one of the score’s few moments of straightforward action. Parts of this action style return in the vibrant “End Credits” piece, ending the score on a pleasing classical note.
The only drawback to the score is the careless placement of several period songs – “Rain Song”, “Lady Sunshine Und Mister Moon”, “Wumba Tumba Schokoladeneisverkäufer” and “Let’s Dance” among them – which almost ruin the carefully constructed mood Goldstein and Tarrab create with their score. It’s so jarring to go from the low-key tension of “In the Mountain” to a piece of old-fashioned upbeat dance music, and these cues need to be programmed out of the listening experience so as not to break the mysterious spell the score otherwise creates.
Parts of Wakolda remind me of something Mychael Danna might write for one of his ‘disturbing urban drama’ scores, The Ice Storm or Felicia’s Journey or something like that, where the public sheen of normality and respectability hides something much more emotionally monstrous behind the curtains and under the beds. It’s a difficult notion to convey musically, and the fact that Goldstein and Tarrab have succeeded here is testament to their talent.
Track Listing: 1. The German Doctor Main Title/Títulos Wakolda (1:32), 2. Little Bed/Pequeña Cama (0:45), 3. Rain Song (3:49), 4. Just a Game/Un Juego (1:10), 5. The Journey/El Viaje (1:17), 6. Lilith (0:41), 7. There Were Two/Eran Dos (1:15), 8. Blood and Honor/Sangre y Honor (0:59), 9. Farewell/Despedida (0:38), 10. Dolls Factory/Fábrica de Muñecas (1:29), 11. Heartbeat/Latidos (0:53), 12. Lady Sunshine Und Mister Moon (2:14), 13. Forest/Bosque (1:04), 14. The Hunt Has Begun/La Cacería Ha Comenzado (1:12), 15. Nazi’s Bunker/Bunker Nazi (0:58), 16. The Persecution/La Persecución (1:32), 17. Wumba Tumba Schokoladeneisverkäufer (2:27), 18. Prematures/Eran Sietemesinas (1:11), 19. In the Mountain/En la Montaña (0:49), 20. Let’s Dance (1:52), 21. The Persecution Continues/La Persecución Continúa (1:23), 22. Sea Above, Sky Below (7:40), 23. The End/El Final (1:54), 24. The German Doctor End Credits/Wakolda Créditos Finales (2:50). Quartet Records SM-027; Running Time: 42:21.