Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Arnon Goldfinger's THE FLAT: yet another sensationally good Holocaust documentary

Yes. Yours truly is that man who keeps insisting that he will not watch one more Holocaust movie -- narrative or documentary -- and then caves in and in and in once again, as these films keep on coming, the next, it would appear, more amazing than the last. I guess I must face it: The Holocaust is an inexhaustible source for the horrors and the wonders of human behavior before, during and after the event itself, and on into the further generations that continue to be so affected by it. The latest of these movies, opening this week, is the Israeli film THE FLAT, in which a documentarian, Arnon Goldfinger (shown below, who a few years back gave us the lovely documentary The Komediant), helps, along with the rest of his family, to pack up and dispose of his recently-dead grandmother's possessions, and so consequently discovers....

Mr. Goldfinger (you can't buy a better movie-related name!) proves a masterful narrator and semi-star of his own film, as he quietly goes about involving his family, especially his mother, as well as other participants spanning genera-tions and continents in his quest to find out more about the rather shocking -- but still, he never raises his voice -- relationship that evidently existed between his grandparents (shown at the bottom of this post) and a certain German family named Von Mildenstein (the paterfamilias of which is shown below, in Palestine). Who these people were -- both families, actually -- how their relationship developed, and how long it lasted despite, well, so much, um... "baggage" is the source of enormous surprise, pain, guilt and the almost constant, quiet confrontation that goes on throughout the film.

Who knew, for instance, of any Nazi/Zionist connection in pre-war Germany?  You'll find out about it here. And you may soon, too, be brought in mind of that statement attributed to either Auden or Isherwood (I can't remember which) to the effect that "If I had to choose between betraying my friend or my country, I hope that I would choose my country."

During the course of this film, you will be brought up against concepts of guilt and retribution, the sin of omission, and why one generation so seldom questions the other about events that were pivotal. At one point in this ever-surprising movie, Arnon looks hard at his mother (above), and you can feel his shock -- or maybe it's anger or sadness -- as he realizes what she did and did not ask.

Finally, the film is about how difficult it is to confront. There is a scene toward the end, in which Arnon visits his new friend (above) in the German family and shows her what he has taken the time and trouble to discover about her father. Just as she must look away and refuse to acknowledge, I found myself looking away from the screen so as to somehow, like her, avoid this awful revelation.

The movie is not perfect (I would have revamped the sometimes much-too-perky musical score), but to its eternal credit, neither is it overly neat. Some things remain a mystery -- such as the whereabouts of a family member's grave. As with so many mysteries, a part of what we see is simply unsolvable because it takes in so many competing/contradictory motives and actions.

How difficult it is to admit and confront! Because, if we do not know, then we do not have to judge. Or forgive. Still, isn't there some responsibility connected to our being survivors of an horrific event? The Flat, from Sundance Selects, opens this Friday, October 19, in New York City at the IFC Center and the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center. Look for it to also arrive soon at Landmark Theaters in Chicago, Los Angeles and the San Francisco East Bay area.

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