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Review: Weirdly poignant ‘Thy Father’s Chair’ turns its lens on twin hoarders in Brooklyn

A scene from the documentary "Thy Father's Chair."
(No Permits Produktions)

“Thy Father’s Chair” is a morbidly compelling, observational documentary about Orthodox Jewish twin brothers living in bug-infested squalor in the Brooklyn house left them by their late parents. Think a Flatbush version of “Grey Gardens,” without the wacko charm, celebrity quotient or tony address.

The sixtysomething Avraham and Shraga — obese, unkempt, tricky to tell apart (save for maybe the alcoholic Shraga’s wine-stained shirts) — are forced to empty and fumigate their junk- and garbage-packed home or their disgusted upstairs tenant will permanently withhold the rent, the jobless brothers’ main source of income.

Enter an extreme-cleaning company whose patient, emotionally available Israeli owner and his team systematically dump endless heaps and stashes of often ancient stuff (don’t ask what’s in the freezer) while one or the other twin watches in horror, shame, guilt and/or confusion. Cats also live there; you can imagine the odors.

But how exactly did things get this way? Are the brothers typical hoarders? Is mental illness at play? Are they lazy or just obtuse? Has the local Jewish community stepped in at all?

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Bits of conversation fill in some blanks but since filmmakers Antonio Tibaldi and Alex Lora’s brave cameras barely leave the premises, we’re mostly left watching a massively disturbing clean-up effort with a “before-and-after”-type payoff. An enigmatic, if perhaps hopeful, epilogue caps this sad, strange, at times weirdly poignant portrait.

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‘Thy Father’s Chair’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 14 minutes

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Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills

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