Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Flat (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Flat

"The Flat" is a compelling documentary by Arnon Goldfinger which examines the  anxiety of history and the question of guilt on a very intimate level.

Goldfinger despite his James Bond-like name, is kind and unassuming. With his glasses and sparse hair, he reminds one of Kafka and indeed, given that he is surprised at every event that he uncovers, he does seem existential.

At the start of the film, Goldfinger's grandmother has been dead for a month. He is faced with the often upsetting task of going through her personal effects. After relating to us that his grandmother kept her house in Tel Aviv as a Berlin time capsule, filled with old classics of Balzac and Shakespeare that few read, he discovers something in the drawers that shocks him: Nazi propaganda, specifically the newspaper Der Angriff. 

Goldfinger is stupefied as anyone would be by these objects and he is driven to find out why they exist in his grandmother's house concealed for decades. Through his research of personal letters and Angriff papers, he finds mention of his grandmother, Gerda Tuchler in the company of one Zionist expert and Nazi, a Baron Leopold  von Mildenstein. Mildenstein was a SS officer in the department of Jewish affairs under the command of Goebbels. Gerda and grandfather Kurt accompanied Mildenstein on many trips to Palestine and Vienna. Horrifyingly, Gerda had knowledge of her own mother shipped out to the death camps and more unbelievably, Gerda and Mildenstein remained friends for many decades after the war, visiting, dining intimately and exchanging gifts.

Goldfinger's  quest is one flabbergasting surprise after another. Like an historical Columbo, he disarms with gentle congeniality, invariably bringing bouquets of flowers.

He kills with kindness.

"The Flat" unfolds like a Roman Polanski thriller. Everyone around Goldfinger is friendly and charming, eager to please yet distant and vague regarding the past. Goldfinger initiates a friendship with Mildenstein's daughter Edda, a disarmingly eager and charming sophisticate. At one point bearing proof of Mildenstein's acceptance in the SS, Edda dismisses the letter saying, "I don't believe it." She tries to convince Goldfinger that her father was an energetic Coca Cola executive with no Nazi association. Finally, Edda  says, "I'm interested, but...I'd like to think of other reasons."

The director's sister Hannah is non-plussed by the mystery. "I really don't think about it. It doesn't bother me." As mind-boggling as this is, Edda's husband gives somewhat of an excuse:

"We didn't think about it because you didn't ask. We weren't allowed."
The facts of history are thus forgotten under an accepted fiction of Mildenstein as a dashing and charmed traveller, a man about town, and ultimately, a conscientious executive for an iconic company who lived the American Dream.

This invention of truth is as jarring as anything in "The Girl With  The Dragon Tattoo". Within each smiling and champagne bubbling face, the eyes go momentarily blank and then recover as if to say, "No, this is what we've been told. It must be true."

The final upset is the present sight of Gerda's apartment, once brimming with scarlet bound tomes and old photographs, now  picked over by strangers, empty and barren. The clap of a shutter signals the closing of history and a gnawing thirst that sadly goes unquenched.

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