The Last Goldfish
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…one of those little films that lodges in the memory…
This important Australian documentary has a rather quirky title. It conjures up completely different (and, as it turns out irrelevant) images, but then if your surname was Goldfish wouldn’t you want to work it in somehow? Documentarian Su Goldfish is the daughter of Manfred Goldfish, whose fascinating life is the thread that runs through the film. Of course, Goldfish is not his real name and here we are circling around, as the film does, his Jewish identity.
The Jewish people are the ultimate diaspora and so many of them changed their names, often to Anglicised versions, when fitting in to a host country. Su is also telling her tale as she sets out to trace her ancestry and her now-dispersed family. Manfred came to start a new life here after the Second World War. Su tells of growing up in Australia and how she became involved in the arts. She also tells of her coming out as a lesbian and of the challenges she faced in getting accepted by her family. It was not that all of them were openly hostile or homophobic but, nonetheless, there were adjustments to be made. She is forgiving about this and enough of an artist to want to give others a voice even when their views might not make sense to her today. At a time when acceptance of sexual preference is perhaps finally entering the mainstream, this is another reason to see this timely film.
The other issue is her relationship with her dad whose re-marriage and remaking of his life gave her half sisters and brothers on the other side of the world. Part of the tension in the film is her challenging of her father’s decisions to be silent about so many important aspects of his past. Again, she understands that it is up to individuals to manage their life and their past, but any silence is simultaneously withholding something, and this has an impact upon loved ones and dependents.
The other big issue in the film is the holocaust. It is not a spoiler to mention that part of the trail she reconstructs leads back to the camps. This is the great ineradicable stain on not just the twentieth century but on human nature and it gives the lie to civilisation’s illusions. This much can never be out of date. The film does not allow itself to be taken over by this element but nor does it shy away from its lingering personal cost.
It is technically rather remarkable that the film flows so smoothly given that, the filmmaker had little actual moving footage to edit in. However, the convention of panning over stills with a first-person narration over the top is skilfully done and the short running time passes quickly. The Last Goldfish is one of those little films that lodges in the memory, and memory is where we find most of our hidden treasures.
The Last Goldfish is on limited release. To find a screening, click through here.