Title: The Flat
Director: Arnon Goldfinger
An earnest and deeply personal exhumation of proverbial skeletons in the family closet, director Arnon Goldfinger’s “The Flat” is nonetheless deadly dull — a movie that churns up yards of speculation in delving into the intertwined history of a married Jewish couple and their strange, rekindled, post-World War II friendship with some German counterparts, but with increasingly diminishing returns.
When Goldfinger’s 98-year-old grandmother passes away, he and his family descend upon the Tel Aviv apartment she and her husband shared for decades, since immigrating from Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Sifting through a dense collection of letters, photos and bric-a-brac, Goldfinger begins to uncover clues that point to a much more complicated family history than he could have guessed. His grandparents, it seems, were friends with Leopold von Mildenstein, a man with connections to the SS prior to the war, and possibly even Joseph Goebbels’ propaganda machine later on. Seeking to understand how deep Mildenstein’s Nazi connections really ran — and how much of his history his grandparents and Mildenstein’s own family knew — Goldfinger delves into old letters and press archives, tracking down friends and colleagues of the aforementioned parties.
Documentaries as personal histories are of course widespread. Plenty of movies, from “Stevie” and “The Devil and Daniel Johnston” to “Capturing the Friedmans” and even the recent “Photographic Memory,” have delved into painful and shocking pasts, or addressed at least tangentially the manner in which time and distance tend to cleave from one’s memory the more unpleasant aspects of some particular recollection. “The Flat,” though, feels curated by the most dispassionate theme park ride operator of all time. It’s devoid of catharsis, or indeed any real feeling at all; it’s perhaps aptly titled, in that regard. Though narrated by Goldfinger, it lacks much in the way of emotional response to any of its investigation.
Ergo, vague and scattered notions or even scraps of evidence remain crucially unconnected, contextually. There is an objectivity here, and a kind of scrupulous demonstrative remove that invites very intellectualized analysis of human denial (late in the film, there’s a too-brief interview with a psychologist that touches on this topic), but it robs the film of any sense of cresting momentum or investment. “The Flat” is damned by its own incuriosity.
NOTE: For more information, visit www.ifcfilms.com/films/the-flat.
Written by: Brent Simon