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Case Study:'Wakolda' or 'The German Doctor' (Argentina's Submission for the Oscar Nomination as Best Foreign Language Film)

Photo of Sydney Levine By Sydney Levine | Sydneys Buzz April 25, 2014 at 11:00AM

The Samuel Goldwyn Company released Wakolda in the U.S. on Friday, April 25, 2013 in New York at the IFC Center and Lincoln Plaza Theaters, in Los Angeles at The Landmark, in San Francisco at the Landmark Embarcardo and in Berkeley at The Landmark Shattuck. It will go nationwide throughout the spring. For a complete list of theaters, visit: http://schedule.samuelgoldwynfilms.com/films/the+german+doctor/
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 The German Doctor  (Wakolda)
The German Doctor (Wakolda)

Of the films I have seen thus far of the submissions for Academy Award Nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, the German film Two Lives and the Argentinean Wakolda whose English title is The German Doctor are the most complex. They are both cross cultural and multilayered.

The Samuel Goldwyn Company was very brave to take U.S. rights to The German Doctor, which deals with Argentinean complicity with the Nazis in a way no one has ever shown before as was the film’s director Lucia Puenzo. The literal ambiguity of director Lucia Puenzo’s earlier debut feature, XXY, is in this case taken up a notch to a level of moral ambiguity. In this new film the child and her mother are both enchanted by the German Doctor until they understand his complete obsession with something more evil than good.

As in Two Lives, the moral ambiguity that life forces its characters to live is a difficult philosophical subject to convey to the audience. It is discomfiting even as the audience wants to find out what will happen next. Why I mention both of them is that one, they both concern Germany which still today bears witness to a complex and ambiguous state of affairs as it pursues economic policies which are being weighed with two sets of moral measurement and two, they are both submissions of their countries for the AMPAS Oscar race for Best Foreign Language Film Nomination.

But more about Two Lives later.

Firstly, now we will discuss Wakolda, or as it is called in English, The German Doctor which is screening here in Havana where I am writing this.

Lucia Puenzo has directed three films and written five books. Her debut feature, XXY, which premiered in Cannes Critic’s Week in 2007 was also sold by Pyramide. The Fish Child (2009) premiered at the Berlin Film Festival. Wakolda (2013), is based on her own novel and is her third feature. It continues the themes of sexual identity and duality of the previous two films, exacerbated this time in the relationship of mutual fascination maintained by its protagonists: a girl and German doctor who in 1960 makes her the subject of one of his experiments.


Patagonia, 1960. A German physician meets an Argentinean family and follows them on the long desert road to Bariloche where Eva, Enzo and their three children are going to open a lodge by the Nahuel Huapi Lake. Eva grew up in this German populated town in Argentina with her German family who ran the lodge as a sort of bed and breakfast and she and her husband Enzo are considering making it into a B&B again. This model family reawakens his obsession with purity and perfection, in particular Lilith, a 12 year-old with a body too small for her age.

Lucia Puenzo's 'The German Doctor'
Lucia Puenzo's 'The German Doctor'

Unaware of his true identity, they accept the German physician as their first guest. They are all gradually won over by this charismatic man, by his elegant manners, his scientific knowledge and his money, until they discover they are living with one of history’s most abominable criminals.

The film was based on the fifth novel of Lucia Puenza and was written about a year and a half after the novel. Lucia is quoted in Fandor as saying,

“Wakolda fue primero una novela, mi última novela, que escribí un año y medio antes de empezar el guión, y no estaba destinada a ser una película. !Se trataba de un alemán que se escapaba de algo, y mientras escribía se fue transformando en Mengele y en todo ese universo del Angel de la Muerte que trae encima. Yo escucho hablar de él y de muchas otras historias de tantos jerarcas nazis que se evaporaron en nuestro país desde que tengo 15 años, ese tema me horrorizó y me fascinó al mismo tiempo.”

“Wakolda was first a novel, my last novel, which I wrote a year and a half before starting the script, and it was not meant to be a movie. It was about a German who was running away from something. While I was writing, the German became transformed into Mengele and all that is encompassed in the universe of The Angel of Death. I had heard about him and many many other stories of the disappeared Nazis in our country since I was 15 years, I was appalled by the subject and I was fascinated at the same time.”

Historias Cinematographica, the production company of director-producer, Luis Puenzo (Official Story) and the father of Lucia Puenzo is one of Latin America’s busiest film production forces with a slate of five films per year. Here are The German Doctor’s links on IMDbPro and on Cinando.

Historias Cinematographica structured Wakolda as a Spain-France-Norwegian co-production with Argentina. Shot in Spanish and German, Wakolda is Lucia Puenzo’s biggest film to date, given its period setting and her interests as an increasingly mature director. The cinematography is by family member Nicolas Puenzo.

The film was supported by INCAA, ICAA, Aide aux Cinémas du monde, Centre National du Cinéma et de L´image animée, Ministère des Affaires Étrangères (France), Institut Français, Sørfond Norwegian South Film Fund, Programa Ibermedia, and TVE.

Its French coproducer, Pyramide of France, is also the international sales agent. Wanda Vision of Spain is also its Spanish distributor, and Hummelfilm (Gudney Hummelvoll) of Norway came on board as part of the Sorfond Norwegian South Film Fund’s €100,000 grant’s requisite; Stan Jakubowicz, a Venezuelan producer, came in early. Televisión Federal (Telefe) is a co-producer as are Moviecity/ LAPTV - Latin American Pay Television, Distribution Company Sudamericana who is the Argentinean distributor as well. It was made in association with P&P Endemol Argentina and Cine.Ar. As a footnote, the ad budget invested by Telefe in its TV campaign was exceptionally large: 893 TV spots broadcast in ten markets in a five weeks span.

When the script was ready, Luis and Lucia Puenzo went to the Berlinale Co-Production Market in February 2011 looking for co-producers and financing.

Lucia Puenzo's 'The German Doctor'
Lucia Puenzo's 'The German Doctor'

The eighth Berlinale Co-Production Market (February 13 - 15, 2011) successfully brought the producers and directors of 38 selected film projects from 25 countries together with 450 potential co-production and financial partners.

For each of these projects, the Berlinale Co-Production Market’s team arranged numerous thirty-minute one-on-one meetings with interested potential partners. Over 1000 meetings in two days were scheduled based on the needs of the projects and the individual requests of the participants. Meetings were in high demand, and some projects received up to about 80 meeting requests by participants looking for projects.

Among the Official Project Selection were projects by well-known, award-winning directors such as Lucía Puenzo (XXY and recently The Fish Child- Panorama 2009), Eran Riklis (The Syrian Bride, Lemon Tree), Urszula Antoniak (Nothing Personal) and Seyfi Teoman, whose film Bizim Büyük Çaresizliğimiz (Our Grand Despair) screened in this year’s (2013) Competition.

They applied for Sørfond Norwegian South Film Fund 2012, the Norwegian Film Fund for developing countries where such production is limited by political or economic causes which brought them to their coproducer, Himmelfilm of Norway.

They also received financing from Aide aux Cinemas du Monde 2012, and Programa Ibermedia 2012.

Pyramide of France and Wanda Vision of Spain came on board after Cannes announced its inclusion in Un Certain Regard. Stan Jakubowicz, a Venezuelan producer had been on board earlier.

5 March 2011- Pre-production

12 July 2012 - Filming
17 August 2012 - Post-production
28 April 2013 - Completed

21 May 2013 - Premiered in Cannes Film Festival.

Wakolda rights sold

The film premiered at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard section in May of 2013. It won the Audience Award at St. Peterberg Film Festival and at 2nd Unasur Cine International Film Festival it won awards for Best Feature, Best Director, Best Actress and Best New Actress. It went on to play September 2013 at San Sebastian Film Festival’s Horizontos Latinos section and amid growing speculation that the title would be Argentina’s submission for the foreign language Oscar this year (and it has been so submitted!). Its ISA (international sales agent) and coproducer, Pyramide International continued to make sales to Samuel Goldwyn Films for U.S., in Central and Southern America including to: Argentina (Distribution Company), Australia (Madman Entertainment), Brazil (Imovision and Reserva Nacional Distribuidora De Filmes), Bolivia and Chile (Los filmes De La Arcadia), Colombia (Cine Colombia), the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico (Wiesner Distribution), France - Pyramide Distribution, Greece - Videorama Films, Hungary – Vertigo, , Italy – Academy Two, Peru (PUCP) and Panama and Costa Rica (Palmera International). Spain sold to Nirvana, Switzerland Xenix Filmdistribution Gmbh, Taiwan Swallow Wings Films, Turkey – Medyavizyon, U.K. Peccadillo Pictures, U.S. – Samuel Goldwyn Films. Sarajevo’s Obala Art Centar - Sarajevo Film Festival has acquired the picture for multiple territories including Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Serbia, Slovenia and Montenegro. The film has also sold to Poland (Hagi), Israel (Nachshon Films Ltd) and South Korea (Company L) since Cannes. Laptv has Latin American TV rights.

It will continue to play the festival circuit worldwide until its theatrical and commercial release in 30 + countries.

You can read a review in Screen International: The German Doctor (Wakolda)

Update information as of November 1, 2013:

Lucia Puenzo's 'The German Doctor'
Lucia Puenzo's 'The German Doctor'

Wakolda will reach 400,000 spectators by its fifth week on screen, and still has 75 screens. It has maintained an average of almost 100,000 spectators per week. It has been selected by over 50% of the Academy members as the Argentinean submission for both the Oscar and the Goya Awards.

It is important to consider its release was much smaller (72 screens) than films like Séptimo, Corazón de León and Metegol (which released with Disney with 250 screens aprox). Septimo was released by 20th Century Fox, Corazon de León was released by Disney, Metegol by Universal. Wakolda´s average of spectators per copy was higher than all these other films, which allowed distribution to add screens the 2nd week, reaching 85 screens.

It has been sold by Pyramide Films to over 20 territories. In the last weeks, it has been released in Spain (with 40 copies, excellent reviews and an average of over 1,500 euros per copy) and will be released in France with 60 copies, 8 in Paris, on the 6th of November. And in Russia with 40 copies. Until the end of the year it will be released in 15 countries (we can send you detailed territories and companies who bought the rights if needed).

In the U.S., the rights were acquired in Cannes by Samuel Goldwyn Films.

The novel upon which Wakolda is based has also been translated to over fifteen languages. In Germany the novel has been edited by Wagenbach and reedited due to its good sales.

In the last weeks the films was won Awards in Argentina, St. Petersburg, República Dominicana and Tokyo.

It is worth noting that Wakolda was distributed in Argentina by an independent (Bernardo Zupnick’s Distribution Company) while every other successful local film has been distributed by a studio

The German Doctor (Wakolda) Opens in L.A. and N.Y. on April 25th

This article is related to: Wakolda , The German Doctor , Argentina , Two Lives, Lucia Puenzo, Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award , Best Foreign Language Film Oscar , Academy Awards, Oscar Academy Award, Cannes Film Festival, International Film Market, International Film Business, International Film Festival, International Sales Agent, International

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