14 June 2012

Die Wohnung/The Flat

On Monday night, I saw the Israeli/German documentary co-production, "Die Wohnung" (or in English, "The Flat").  This film was showing in Berlin as part of the Berlin Jewish Film Festival, and has previously screened at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival and has also shown, I believe, at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York (although the producers wonder why the Berlinale, Berlin's top festival, rejected it).  It was an interesting test for my language skills, as the narration is in German, most of the dialogue is in Hebrew, and some is in English (with German subtitles).

It is a very interesting film that begins with the filmmaker, Arnon Goldfinger, and his family cleaning out his recently deceased grandmother's apartment in a nice neighbourhood in Tel Aviv.  One of the things that become clear early on is that his grandparents, the Tuchlers, despite living for 60-70 years in Israel, were still very much the German Jews that left Berlin in 1936. 

The scene was similar to what my own family went through recently, cleaning out my grandfather's house after he passed away.  However, my grandfather was in no position to accumulate possessions before coming to Canada the way the Tuchlers were.  Goldfinger, his mother, and his cousins went through the grandmother's large collections of shoes, handbags, and gloves,* before getting to the shelves of German books.

Eventually, it was on to the boxes of receipts, letters, and newspaper clippings.  It was here that the film becomes more than just a home movie.  Discovered amongst the clippings was a news story from a Nazi Propoganda newspaper that discussed a Nazi officer, von Mildenstein, going to Palestine.  With von Mildenstein and his wife on their travels were the filmmaker's grandparents. 

Goldfinger then delves deeper and deeper into this mystery of how his grandparents's lives could be so entwined with those of a Nazi officer.  What he uncovers is not only a riveting story from the past that complicates everything we are told about the Holocaust -- that the Nazis were evil murderers, and the Jews were mild-mannered victims -- but also people's ability to delude themselves into believing what they want to believe, and to avoid asking difficult questions.

It is a powerful film that tries to understand the complexity of human friendships as well as the power of denial and self-delusion.


* Think classy gloves, not winter gloves.

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