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The Flat - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
The Flat
Directing: B+
Writing: A-
Cinematography: B
Editing: B

How much do you know about your grandparents? I wondered more than once about my own grandparents while watching the documentary The Flat: I have one grandparent left, and what secrets will go with him once he passes away? I actually know so little about the younger years of that generation. I suppose I can take comfort in the profound unlikelihood that I'll find any secret as staggering as that discovered by Arnon Goldfinger.

Goldfinger evidently documents and films as part of his everyday life. How else to explain footage of his entire family rummaging through his late grandmother's flat (hence the title), from the very beginning? The opening scene itself features siblings, cousins, his mother. There's never any mention of his father. Maybe his father opted not to be a part of this. There is a lot of focus on Goldfinger's mother, because the grandmother in question is maternal.

His grandmother passed at the age of 98. We see clip after clip of the massive amount of stuff his grandmother had, being sorted through. He says they get to a point where they're cleaning out the flat at a rate of 60 garbage bags a day. That's a lot of shit.

And then, this Jewish family living in Israel, with a German grandmother who moved away from Germany at the onset of World War II, discovers something pretty amazing: a Nazi propaganda newspaper.

At first, Goldfinger's mother is resistant to learning about things her parents never, ever told her about. Goldfinger is insistent on digging. The more he digs, the more incredible information he uncovers, stuff no one in the family knew. It seems his grandparents were close friends with another couple who were Nazis, not just before the war, but after it as well. They traveled back to Germany every year for many years, visiting this other couple. Understandably, Goldfinger doesn't get it.

He even visits the now-elderly daughter of this Nazi couple in Germany, on more than one occasion. Her name is Edda, and she has a curious persistence of denial when it comes to her father's career in the SS. It takes him returning with documented proof before she'll acknowledge it, and although the reaction is subtle, she doesn't take it very well.

At one point, Goldfinger returns to visit Edda and her husband, with Goldfinger's mother in tow. Conversations move to subjects Edda and her husband really never even talk about between themselves. Her husband gives an unusual window into what it was like growing up as a non-Jewish German during World War II. He notes that the Americans and Brits put up posters all over that revealed information about concentration camps, but the German citizenry found it so shocking that it was literally unbelievable. They dismissed it as American propaganda.

Edda notes that she didn't discuss what happened during the war with her parents either. She says second-generation Germans never asked. Only third-generation Germans have started asking the questions. Goldfinger is Israeli by birth, but German by heritage, and he is here, asking the questions, with cameras. I couldn't help but wonder about those cameras, following along on all these rather sensitive conversations. How did he present the cameras? Clearly all these people agreed to be filmed. Did they have any idea what Goldberg was creating, exactly? A few of the scenes with Goldberg alone are clearly staged, but virtually everything with other people looks genuine, people conversing as if there are no cameras in the room. And this is some pretty heavy stuff he uncovers.

The Flat starts out feeling a bit like any average collection of home movies, and then morphs into this mystery that gets more complicated at every turn. At times his being the filmmaker is more apparent than his being the subject, and the transition between the two can be awkward. At one point, as we see his mother rifling through her mother's papers, we see Goldfinger himself holding up a boom mic. How natural can the proceedings be with that kind of equipment around?

Occasional technical mediocrity aside, the story itself is pretty amazing. If you think about it, there is likely a whole lot of family histories very similar to this one, with pasts tied to the holocaust that are kept as skeletons in closets. Very few see the light of day at all, let alone in this particular manner. Goldfinger is a driven man, and at the very least he understands that this is a story worth sharing.

Arnon Goldfinger (L) reveals some dark family secrets in THE FLAT.

Overall: B+
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