The title of the this 2011 Israeli documentary refers to the Tel Aviv apartment of recently deceased, 98 year old Gerda, the grandmother of The Flat’s director, Arnon Goldfinger. The premise of the film is immediately intriguing, titillating even: One day, while clearing out the remnants of the flat, Goldfinger stumbles across evidence of his grandparents’ friendship with Leopold von Mildenstein, a prominent former Nazi. The disturbing revelation escalates once Goldfinger realizes that the relationship persisted even after the turmoil of World War II and the shocking brutality intrinsic to the Holocaust.
The Flat is a surprising, challenging film in many ways. It is not particularly radical in its approach. However, as Goldfinger (which has to be the best last name ever) embarks on a quest to discover the truth about how a relationship like this could have persevered despite the global turmoil of the 1930’s and 1940’s The Flat gradually becomes more and more intuitive regarding human behavior. The two most interesting components of the story are Goldfinger’s relationship with his mother, who reluctantly joins his hunt and the conversations that eventually transpire with Mildenstein’s now elderly daughter, Edda. Both of these women underline the core themes of the film which is an exploration how the effects of a past horror reverberate throughout the generations into the future.
This is compelling, disturbing stuff, however the film never seems to really develop much of an emotional stance on its powerful themes, which is unique even for a documentary. The only reason this is problematic is that the film’s perpetual façade of serenity and observational placidness doesn’t really provide any of the big payoffs that one might be looking for. Simply put, the pacing of the film might be challenging for some viewers.
However, in the end The Flat is worthy of one’s efforts if only for its exploration of familial secrets and the psychology involved in dealing with troubling past events. The film astutely captures the homes of both Gerda and Edda as being paraellel living spaces in many ways, with each home containing its fair share of hidden nooks and crannies crammed full of items and mementos from earlier years. This provides great visual subtext for the film’s central argument: The complicated emotions related to troubling past events are never truly gone, they are only tucked away.