The Departed

Arnon Goldfinger’s new documentary often uses wit to examine Shoah’s effect on the ones who got away.

10/16/2012
Special to the Jewish Week
A treasure trove of artifacts left behind by Goldfinger's grandmother.
A treasure trove of artifacts left behind by Goldfinger's grandmother.

Mishpokhe. Familia. Family. Oy.

Israeli documentary filmmaker Arnon Goldfinger knows from family. His first major film released in the United States was “The Komediant” (2002), about the great Yiddish entertainer Pesach Burstein and his extended family, seemingly all of which was also on the musical stage. His latest film, “The Flat,” which played Tribeca and opens theatrically on Oct. 19, forces him to focus closer to home, on his own (over-) extended family, and he does so to great effect.

When his grandmother Gerda Tuchler dies at 98, Goldfinger, his mother and a flotilla of relatives turn up to clean out the apartment. The brothers and sisters and cousins and uncles and aunts troop in, mugging for the camera. Goldfinger, with the benefit of hindsight, reflects that he has no inkling at the time that he will find himself in Berlin not long after as a direct result of what the apartment-cleaning chores turn up. At first, the family’s efforts produce “60 garbage bags a day” of assorted papers, junk and rubbish. The female relatives cavort in Gerda’s seemingly inexhaustible supply of gloves and handbags, a vivid reminder that if you don’t throw anything away, it all comes back in style. In the meantime, Goldfinger reflects on his grandparents’ attachment to a Germany that had rejected them decades before, despite Grandpa Karl’s receiving the Iron Cross twice for his service in WWI and his well-regarded career as a judge before the Nazis fired him.

Then something very peculiar turns up — copies of the Nazi newspaper Der Angriff running a series, “A Nazi Travels to Palestine,” written by an SS officer. When Goldfinger learns that his grandparents were along on that April 1933 trip at the behest of the German Zionist Society and had established something of a friendship with their German counterparts, he is intrigued and more than a bit disturbed, but there are more revelations to come.

“The Flat” takes one of the most oblique routes possible to examine the aftermath of the Shoah and its meaning for German Jews who managed to evade the killing machine. Goldfinger is a shrewd interviewer who allows his sources to talk themselves into inadvertent truth-telling, and the humor and wit that shone through “The Komediant” are in generous supply here as well. His own low-key presence on-camera helps ground the film in a deceptively casual register that allows the secrets that emerge to make their own impact without unnecessary hype from the filmmaker.

“The Flat” is a clever film that manages to juggle wildly disparate tones and moods to great effect. And it’s an effective reminder that despite one’s fears there are still stories of the Shoah that haven’t been told yet, some of them quite unexpected.

“The Flat,” directed by Arnon Goldfinger, opens on Friday, Oct. 19 at the IFC Center (323 Sixth Ave.; [212] 924-7771 or www.ifccenter.com) and the Lincoln Plaza (1886 Broadway; [212] 757-2280 or www.lincolnplazacinema.com).

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