Jewish filmmaker Arnon Goldfinger makes a shocking discovery in his late grandparents’ Tel Aviv apartment, and learns that some of the most meaningful truths in life go unspoken while attempting to solve a mystery that spans back generations in The Flat -- a fascinating and acutely observed look at the struggles we face while attempting to confront the pains of the past.
In the wake of his 98-year-old grandmother's passing, Goldfinger commences the arduous process of cleaning out the Tel Aviv flat she lived in for 70 years. When the Nazis seized power in Germany, Goldfinger's grandparents Gerda and Kurt Tuchler fled to Tel Aviv. There, the couple led a rich life, and continued to grow a family. Gerda and Kurt never spoke to their daughter or grandchildren about their experiences during the Holocaust, so upon finding Nazi propaganda and friendly correspondences between his grandparents and a high-ranking SS official, the filmmaker is determined to find out how the very people who were forced to leave their homeland due to such intense persecution could have been close friends with someone who seemed committed to exterminating their entire race. Along with his mother, whose philosophy on life is to focus on the present, Goldfinger begins an incredible journey into the past that reveals how the most profound truths can sometimes be swept under the rug for the sake of sheltering the ones we love most.
Despite dealing with such a heavy subject matter, Goldfinger disarms us early on by setting an almost playful tone as his family sorts though his grandparents’ belongings. With spirited narration, he invites us into the flat much like an old family friend so that once the mystery begins to unfold we have a real sense of connection to their group history and individual personalities. Given the recurrent theme of friendship that runs through The Flat, it’s a smart move that helps to keep the tone from becoming too oppressive once Goldfinger begins delving into some of the darker details of his grandparents’ lives. There is no Holocaust footage or graphic imagery of any kind to be found in the documentary, but a pervasive air of tragedy and sadness lingers over Goldfinger’s journey that’s made more palatable by the director’s disarming approach early on. Meanwhile, as Goldfinger travels to Germany for multiple visits with the SS officer’s daughter, their friendly interactions can’t entirely mask the tension that lingers heavily in the air whenever the subject of the Holocaust arises.
It’s at this point that we begin to see the true heart of Goldfinger’s film. By refusing to discuss or research the matter with any real commitment, individuals on both sides of the conflict make a noble yet misguided attempt to protect themselves and their loved ones. But when we bury the past under a concrete slab of silence, we not only prevent future generations from embracing their heritage, but also deny them any chance of learning from the mistakes of that past. A brief yet informative discussion with an expert on Nazis and denial late in the film offers an illuminating insight into the mindset of both the perpetrators of the violence and its victims, and serves as the perfect setup for a final conversation with the SS officer’s daughter in which Goldfinger confronts her with irrefutable evidence of her father’s misdeeds. This painfully awkward scene -- punctuated by a Freudian slip that perfectly illustrates our instinctive inability to gaze directly into the absolute darkness of the truth -- simultaneously highlights the filmmaker’s adroit sense of timing and structure. By presenting us with a compelling mystery that’s personally tied to one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century and deftly confronting the methods which future generations employ in dealing with it, Goldfinger establishes himself as a director who’s committed to encouraging thoughtful reflection and debate on the subject at hand, and someone who is willing to personally put himself out there for the sake of a greater cause. It’s a brave move, and fortunately as a filmmaker, Goldfinger has the talent to back it up.
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- Released: 2011
- Rating: NR
- Review: Jewish filmmaker Arnon Goldfinger makes a shocking discovery in his late grandparents’ Tel Aviv apartment, and learns that some of the most meaningful truths in life go unspoken while attempting to solve a mystery that spans back generations in The Flat --… (more)