The well of Holocaust stories that make for informative and engrossing cinema may never run dry, and “The Flat,” Israeli director Arnon Goldfinger’s documentary about Jewish-Nazi collaboration, adds to the catalog.
Goldfinger has crafted a combination home movie, investigative document and big-picture journey that explores skeletons in family closets, German and Jewish modern history, and how the human need for self-preservation can be dubious.
That may add up to a bit of a bog, but a strong pulse and driving purpose keep things on track.
It begins at the Tel Aviv apartment where Goldfinger’s recently deceased grandmother, Germany-born Gerda Tuchler, lived for seven decades.
Here, Goldfinger and relatives sift through his grandmother’s belongings: jewelry, books, gloves and dead minks that, by today’s animal-rights and fashion standards, look horrifying.
Amid the stuff, Goldfinger finds wartime artifacts that reveal a shocker: Gerda Tuchler and her husband, Kurt, both Jewish Zionists, traveled to Palestine as the personal companions of Leopold von Mildenstein, a high-level Nazi propagandist.
Further, the couple remained friends with von Mildenstein after the war.
When Goldfinger mentions the subject to his mother, she says she knows nothing and she doesn’t care. The family has always lived only “in the present,” Goldfinger notes.
Goldfinger, however, starts digging. A briefly implemented emigration policy explains his grandparents’ link to von Mildenstein but not the continued friendship.
The remainder of the film documents further discoveries.
Of foremost significance is a trip to Germany that Goldfinger takes with his mother. He meets von Mildenstein’s daughter, Edda, and others.
Interviews and archival research reveal a morass of Holocaust horror, trauma and memory blockage.
Questions amass — for starters, how much did the Tuchlers know about von Mildenstein (who was closely connected with Adolf Eichmann and Joseph Goebbels)? Concrete answers are meager.
The shortage of revelations, combined with Goldfinger’s somewhat soft-hitting journalistic style, causes the film to lose some of its steam.
Also problematic are Holocaust-related emotional issues hampering the interviews. Goldfinger’s mother cannot bring herself to address the past. Edda von Mildenstein shifts into denial when the subject turns to her father’s Nazi activities.
But as Goldfinger shapes his observations and findings into a collage of faces, places, war mentalities, individual delusions, generational silences, collective amnesia and continued love for the German homeland, his thoroughness and thoughtfulness create an immersing real-life mystery, a textured cultural tapestry, an affecting intimate drama and an observant study of human nature.