Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
The Flat: Inconvenient Family History
camaraderie sounds all well and good, but the longstanding friendship between
the Tuchlers and the Mildensteins defies belief. Kurt Tuchler was a prominent German Jewish
Zionist. Baron Leopold von Mildenstein
was an SS propagandist. Yet, evidence
suggests they remained on good terms, even during the post-war years. It was a disconcerting bit of family history
Israeli filmmaker Arnon Goldfinger discovered while cleaning out his late
grandmother Gerda’s apartment, resulting in his very personal documentary The Flat (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York at the IFC Center.
they lived in Israel for decades, Goldfinger’s grandparents never learned
Hebrew, standing pat with their native German.
Frequently, they made return pilgrimages to Germany, despite their painful
wartime memories. From time to time,
they would catch up with the Mildensteins, whom they had originally met under
first mention of the Mildenstein name Goldfinger finds in the titular flat is
an old article written by the Baron for a notoriously rabid National Socialist
newspaper titled “A Nazi Travels to Palestine.”
Mildenstein was the Nazi and Tuchler was his guide. They might have been an odd couple, but this
was actually a time when some within the National Socialist Party, such as
Mildenstein, advocated Zionism as a means of solving the so-called “Jewish
Mildenstein’s article did not convince many of his colleagues. However, a long friendship was apparently
struck up. Goldfinger starts out with
the intention of determining how genuine it really was. He eventually unearths letters in which Tuchler
asks Mildenstein to intercede on behalf of relatives still in Germany. Since those family members ultimately
perished in the Holocaust, the problematic Mildenstein was unwilling to help or
rather remiss in his efforts.
the real meat of the film involves Goldfinger’s attempts to get his mother and
the grown daughter of the Mildensteins to come to terms with the ghosts of
their parents’ past. However, due to his
deferential politeness, Goldfinger never pushes the Mildensteins’ descendants
very hard, declining to challenge dubious documentation supposedly vindicating
are many fascinating aspects to the Tuchlers’ story, including the degree to which
they continued to self-identify as German, even after all the horrors of the
war. While Goldfinger raises many
questions about the nature of their friendship with the Mildensteins, the truth
remains indeterminate. It is entirely
possible all four principles would have characterized it differently. Nonetheless, Goldfinger’s somewhat passive
approach never generates a satisfactory payoff or any sense of closure, beyond
the literal closing of the Tuchlers’ flat.
Goldfinger’s investigation is often quite intriguing,
especially in its early stages, but his pop-psychoanalytical sessions with his
disinterested mother revisit some well trod documentary ground. It is
almost like the filmmaker throws in the towel midway through the third
act. Shot in low-fi digital, it also
might be the least cinematic theatrical release in years that was not produced
by an underground Chinese Digital Generation filmmaker. Challenging up to a point, The Flat just doesn’t seem to know what
to say or where to go down the stretch.
For the understandably curious, it opens this Friday (10/19) in New York
at the IFC Center.
Labels: Documentary, Israeli Cinema