Since the pandemic began, the flow of movie industry publicity—flashy premieres, packed-out festivals, drip-fed interview “exclusives”—has ground to a halt. There are no summer blockbusters, no lines around the block. All these still waters, however, can let smaller pictures float to the top.
The Wolf House is a Spanish- and German-language animated film by the Chilean artists Cristóbal León and Joaquín Cociña. Though they have collaborated since 2007, this is their debut feature film. Rummage around their website, and you’ll find a body of work (scribbled, filmed, painted, plastered) deeply concerned with childhood, folktale, and myth.
The film is set in “La Colonia,” a self-described utopian community of German people living an Amish-esque existence in Chile. “La Colonia” is an unmistakable analogue for the actual Colonia Dignidad, a large, isolated commune founded in 1961 in Chile by Paul Schäfer. He was a former Nazi medic who fled Germany after accusations that he had abused children, and he made the religious colony into his own personal playground, where he was known as the “permanent uncle.” When General Pinochet came to power in 1973, he looked favorably on the compound, which he used as a venue for torturing and murdering dissidents.
The Wolf House begins with a grandfatherly voice-over telling us that, once upon a time, a little German girl named Maria let two pigs out of the colony, then ran out into the woods to chase after them. Maria speaks in German-accented Spanish. She is blonde, with blue eyes. As Maria wanders into an abandoned house in the forest and sees dreamlike images drift across the walls and floor and ceiling, we have the sense of entering into a dark, dark subconscious. There, she finds her escaped pigs, which she determines to mother until they turn into human children.