Stalking Nazis in Uruguay with “Mr. Kaplan”
By Skip Sheffield
There has been a spate of movies recently about elderly Nazi war criminals hiding out or existing in plain sight in South America.
“Mr. Kaplan” is the latest of the crop. It has a doozy of a twist ending that makes you go Hmm.
Director Alvaro Brechner wrote the story, which is both a physical comedy and a solemn meditation on the meaning of life. The film begins with a fully-clothed elderly man on a diving board, looking as if he is contemplating jumping in.
It is 1997 and Jacob Kaplan (Hector Noguera) is nearing 80. Shortly after his 1937 Bar Mitzvah in Poland, Jacob’s family prudently fled the Nazis by immigrating to Montevideo, Uruguay. He has been married to Rebecca (Nada Telles) 50 years. As he thinks back on his life and great things men like Goethe and Churchill did late in life, Jacob feels he doesn’t have much to show for his. Problems of old age are cropping up. Jacob can’t pass the eye test for his driver’s license. He is becoming forgetful and disoriented.
Watching a TV news broadcast from France, Jacob learns officials suspect a former high-ranking SS officer may be living as a civilian in Uruguay. One of his granddaughter’s friends tells Jacob there may be such a character living by the beach, owning a bar. Jacob recruits his screw-up son-in-law Wilson Contreras (Nestor Guzzini) to hatch a scheme to stalk the German (Rolf Becker), who is even called “Nazi’ by kids, to confirm their suspicions. Once that is done they will boldly attempt to drug him, kidnap him, and take him to Israel to face justice.
Let’s just say things don’t go exactly as planned. Try to picture Mr. Magoo as a Nazi hunter, with a fat, often drunken bumbler as a sidekick. “Mr. Kaplan” is at the same time very poignant on the difficulties of aging, and very respectful to observant Jews. It is a completely different kind of Holocaust movie.