Movie Review: The Flat


Like an archaeologist opening an ancient, artifact-strewn crypt, Arnon Goldfinger's nonfiction family memoir "The Flat" tells the story of what happens after the filmmaker and his beautiful, elderly mother discover letters, postcards, photos and a Nazi news-paper proving that after the war his deceased maternal grandparents, transplants from Nazi-era Germany to Tel Aviv, continued their friendship with a high-ranking German SS propaganda minister, encouraging German Jews to emigrate to Israel. The evidence prompts a quest by mother and son taking them back to the mother's birthplace in Germany to get to the roots of this seemingly grotesque information.

What they find, among other things, is a link between the SS minister Leopold von Mildenstein and Adolf Eichmann, as well as Edda Milz von Mildenstein, the elderly daughter of the SS minister. If anything, Edda is even more in denial about the past than Arnon's mother, Hannah, who was a child when the Nazis came to power and has always espoused leaving the past in the past. One of the lessons of the film is that, as James Joyce's Stephen Dedalus observed, history is a nightmare from which we are trying to awake. Another is the Dostoyevskian view that life is richer, stranger and darker than we can ever imagine, and human behavior impossible to understand fully. In one perfectly fitting scene, Arnon and Hannah search in vain for a tombstone in an overgrown German cemetery in the rain.

Goldfinger, a third generation survivor, whose previous credits include "The Komediant," a 2000 documentary about a Yiddish comic and actor, is unlike his mother, fiercely determined to ask questions, however thorny or disturbing. He comes across like a bearded and bespectacled momma's boy who is nevertheless relentless in his drive to get to the bottom of what his mother, Edda and others want to keep in the dark. "The Flat" is history as family-drama-film-noir, and it is a fascinating addition to Holocaust cinema.

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