- Girls and DollsThe Biopolitics of Gender and Race in Lucía Puenzo's Wakolda
In her novel and film Wakolda 2013), Argentine writer- director Lucía Puenzo employs a transnational perspective to explore the discipline, racial hygiene, and biopower of two nation-building projects. Puenzo's tale, set in Patagonia in 1960, alludes to the indigenous targets of Argentina's Conquest of the Desert and the children and mother marks of Germany's National Socialism. These populations coincide in the narration of a German-Argentine family's travel along the desert road to reopen their boarding house in Bariloche, where an enclave of Nazi sympathizers resides. Nazi doctor Joseph Mengele's (Alex Brendemühl) treatment of the underdeveloped child protagonist and her mestiza doll, Wakolda, demonstrates Nazism's biopolitics, per Michel Foucault, and the immunitary dispositifs of thanatopolitics, per Roberto Esposito. By virtue of these interventions, Puenzo proposes a parallel of aggression towards two populations: the non-Aryan child and the non-European Mapuche. Drawing upon Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita (1955) and the German legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin (1842), Puenzo reveals how the fugitive is able to seduce the child protagonist, Lilith (Florencia Bado), and her family into cooperation with his experiments.
Puenzo's critically acclaimed works are transnational in their narrative, production, and distribution. In 2013, Puenzo adapted and directed her own novel Wakolda to the big screen. The film won ten Argentine Academy of Arts and Sciences awards, including Best Film and Best Director. The feature was awarded Silver Condors from the Argentinian Film Critics Association in the aforementioned categories with the addition of Best Adapted Screenplay. Her novel has been translated into four languages (English, French, German, and Hungarian) and her film has been distributed around the world. Puenzo's family-owned company produced El médico alemán in collaboration with production companies from Argentina as well as from France, Germany, Norway, and Spain.
I will continue to refer to the novel as Wakolda while I discuss the film as El médico alemán (2013; The German Doctor), the name by which it was distributed outside Latin America.1 This nomenclature, besides serving to distinguish between [End Page 246] the two cultural products, allows me to emphasize a key difference in the two texts: the novel comparatively explores Argentina's indigenous backstory while the film focuses on the German doctor. The literary work is divided into two parts, which are named after Lilith's two dolls: Herlitzka, during which her family travels through the desert and stays with a Mapuche family, and Wakolda, which transpires in Bariloche. Puenzo significantly abbreviates the novel's first part, Herlitzka, for the screenplay.
Gender, sexuality, and medical intervention are common themes in two of Puenzo's three feature films, most notably XXY (2007) and El médico alemán 2013). In her most recent feature-length film, Puenzo returns to the crime thriller, which she pursued in El niño pez (2009; The Fish Child). Her films explore issues of identity and are set in Argentina; nevertheless, Puenzo's themes and genre conventions have proven very popular with international art film audiences. Deborah Shaw's observation of XXY is again true of El médico alemán: "There is a close relationship between local/intimate/subjective spaces and transnational production and exhibition, which points to the foreign audiences' desires to look inside the homes and hearts of the Latin American protagonists" (169). Thus, I see that Puenzo's cinematic glocality this time utilizes the Nazi thriller to explore Argentine genocides while addressing an international audience.2 I wish to illuminate how this transnational perspective on the Nazi doctor's exile in Argentina points at local history.
My discussion will dialogue with Michel Foucault's theorization of biopower, which names Nazism as its clearest example, and Roberto Esposito's thanatopolitics to examine the intersection of the child, gender, and race in Lucía Puenzo's novel and film. Both biopower and thanatopolitics illuminate the state's control over the life and death of its subjects and its prejudicial intervention in their biological life, killing in order to allow others to live, as...