The Shmooze

Mengele: Handsome Psychopath in 'The German Doctor'

By Masha Leon

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In documentaries and live testimonials, survivors of Dr. Joseph Mengele’s “Right [life]-Left [death]” selection at Auschwitz, remember him as exceptionally handsome.

And so is Spanish actor Alex Brendemuhl, who eerily and seductively portrays the toxic physician in Lucia Puenzo’s film “The German Doctor.” An uncanny Mengele Dopplelganger, Brendemuhl — a Spanish actor working in Germany — had to learn Argentinean Spanish and finesse Mengele’s German articulation.

Meeting Puenzo, — author of the book on which the film is based — what struck me was how young (37), tall and beautiful she is. She said: “I need to say that the German community…helped us make this film. All the actors speak [German] by phonetics.”

Did they know who Mengele was? “I remember in secondary school we knew who Mengele was, what happened during the war [but] I could not remember one fiction film about the subject in Argentina.”

Karen Leon
Lucia Puenzo

Were members of the German community that helped with the film descendants of the earlier [Nazi] Germans? “No! No!” she was adamant. “These are Germans who had no connection at all…something very delicate for them. There is the misconception that every German in Argentina has to have a Nazi background…. They want to defend the idea that it was not all of them.”

Why did she name the little girl— on whom Brendemuhl/Mengele experiments with growth hormones— “Lilith”? Puenzo mused: “I know everything that goes around the name, but strangely, when I began to write the novel, that’s the name that appeared. I tried to change it but it came back as Lilith…. certain characters are born with a name.”

Was Lilith supposed to be Jewish? “No! No! …but she is a victim.” And the Israeli woman, Nora, who suspects the doctor’s identity? “She is based on a real live character…. She was a volunteer from the Mossad…They all say she was murdered…. [that] people from the Israeli embassy took her body [from the lake].

Was she influenced by “The Boys from Brazil” in which Gregory Peck portrays Mengele? Puento responded: “I saw the film several times…a very strange film…. what I don’t like about that film is the idea of the stereotype…from the moment I wrote the novel — and film — I did not want to stereotype this man as a monster who had the word written across his forehead — but a very complex psychopathic personality….

“For me, most horrifying was that when all these men {Nazis] began to be found in Argentina —  forty years after being such a monster — people said [of Mengele] ‘He was such a lovely man, such a good citizen!’”

Has it been seen in Germany? The film has been released in 35 countries,” she replied. “It’s been seen by Germans, but has not been released in Germany.”

Currently playing at Lincoln Center Cinemas and IFC Centers. Go see this eerily fascinating film.


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