Unfortunately, Eisenberg makes his observations with an off-putting mixture of studied whimsy and know-it-all irony. Narrator John DiStefano compounds the problem by trying too hard to sound both casual and sagacious, sort of like Mr. Rogers as a bus-tour guide. At one point, Eisenberg focuses on the ruins of an ancient church and takes a long, quiet pause. Pretty soon, the audience is ready for lightning to strike, metaphorically or otherwise. But then, as though shrugging off the whole interlude, the narrator announces, “After waiting for something to happen, I eventually give up and move on.” At this point, members of the audience can be forgiven for shouting rude things at the screen.
“Persistence” quotes lengthily from the postwar writings of Max Frisch, Stig Dagerman and Janet Flanner, and features musical quotes from such operas as Ferrucio Busoni’s “Dr. Faustus” and Franco Donatoni’s “Argot.” Even so, the pic might be more enjoyable if viewed without sound, so that the frequently striking images of Germany then and now could be savored as the cinematic equivalent of a coffee-table book. In particular, the U.S. Signal Corps footage, some of it in color, is remarkably well preserved, and often fascinating in its details of postwar German life.
To give them fair credit, the filmmakers occasionally uncover a factoid or anecdote that is perfectly suited to their “And so it goes” presentation. During the war, a damaged church was adorned with a banner that promised, “The Fuhrer will rebuild and renovate this church.” Unfortunately, the building was in even worse shape by war’s end. So the original banner was replaced with another that read, “This is how the Fuhrer has rebuilt and renovated this church.”