Review: ‘The German Doctor’ 10.14.14


It’s these types of films that I intentionally seek out as they often times have the pedigree to be something better than almost anything I can find in American cinema. Maybe it’s my fascination with WWII era stories. But even moreso, I think a lot of it has to do with the the fact that films of this kind usually depict some sort of protagonist or antagonist, who are faced with  adversities that people in modern day life take for granted. I personally love films of this genre. German films like 2004’s “Downfall”, 2007’s “The Counterfeiters”, and both 2012’s “Hannah Arendt” and “Lore”. All of which center around stories revolving around people plights against injustices brought on by war. I actually didn’t know much about this one going in. Other than I had jotted it down as I do every year when the Cannes Film Festival lineup is announced and I see something that piques my interest because of its genre. What I knew about this was it was billed as a “historical thriller” that takes place during WWII. I had also seen that it had snagged an “Un Certain Regard” nomination at the festival. So just solely based on those two things alone I told myself that at the very least it most likely would wind up being a worthwhile rental.

Based on a true story, the story takes place in Patagonia, Argentina in the year 1960. It involves a young girl, Lilith, and the doctor Josef whose motivations aren’t entirely clear when we meet the two at the start. However, in a voiceover that goes along with the opening credits, we learn that Lilith is “the perfect speciman”. We then come to discover that the doctor is in Argentina for reasons unexplained. He does seem however to have a certain fascination with the young Lilith. So much so that he finagles his way to where he convinces Lilith’s family to allow him to follow them as they head on a family road trip to the motel they own. Towards the end of their trip both he and the family part ways. That’s only until he somehow catches up with them again and manipulates his way yet again to persuade them to rent him a room. The focus of the story then turns to Lilith, who seems to be having a hard time adjusting to her new school because she has some sort of genetic disease that doesn’t allow her to grow like other children her age. Through a series of deceptions involving the doctor helping Lilith’s mother he convinces the family that he can help Lilith grow through a series of experimental tests. None of which the family is too keen on doing, but seeing how miserable Lilith is in school they eventually wind up allowing it. It’s at this point where we start to learn what the doctor’s intentions are and what his true identity is. As we meet someone who thinks they recognize him.

Overall I felt pretty indifferent about this film. A part of me liked a fair amount of elements about it but couldn’t get myself to overlook some of the others. I thought the story, while compelling, unraveled just a bit too slowly for my tastes. And while although I thought the director did a pretty good job at creating a sense of tenseness where I was engaged to the point in that I was waiting for what was going to happen next, it didn’t really catapult itself into the climax that it could have. Plus, once I realized who the doctor really was towards the end, I thought that he could have been played more menacingly and more feared of. The doctor’s character, though threatening, came across as a little bit too subdued and subtle. Which would be effective in certain films just not so much ones of this type. And even despite it being confidently shot with some strong and assured direction it was just barely shy of just being enough for me. What I will say however is that it leaves things at sort of an ambigious ending. Which I thought forced the viewer into thinking about the doctor’s conscience and moral compass. So while it didn’t necessarily work for me as a whole, it did get me to think. Which is one of my 3 criteria with film and why I can give it a worhwhile and passing grade.

Grade: B-