Judge P.S. Colbert remains blissfully unaware of his own family history.
"What is Nazi propaganda doing in my grandparent's flat?"
The Flat begins with a decidedly convivial air. One month after the passing of Gerda Tuchler at ninety-eight, her surviving family members assemble at the Tel Aviv apartment she inhabited for seventy plus years, to begin the large task of sorting through its contents. What will be kept? What will be sold? What will stay and what will go? Gerda's grandson, documentarian Arnon Goldfinger (Komediant), brings along his camera to commemorate the process.
The discovery of an old newspaper among Gerda's belongings brings an ominous chill to the proceedings. An issue of Third Reich propaganda minister Joseph Göbbels' Der Angriff (literally, "The Attack") dated October 1934, features a story called "A National Socialist travels to Palestine," by an Austrian nobleman and journalist named Leopold von Mildenstein.
The story itself seems preposterous: a senior member of Hitler's SS (von Mildenstein himself) and his wife travel to the holy land on a diplomatic mission, with not only the blessing, but also the cooperation of the German Zionist Federation. Accompanying them on the trip was Dr. Kurt Tuchler, an esteemed German jurist, and his wife, Gerda, both ardent Zionists. A cache of photographs from the excursion reveal two happy couples, huddled together and smiling broadly for the camera, sight-seeing, and looking for all the world like any other foursome simply enjoying a delightful getaway. But, why? What would bring these theoretically opposing factions together, and why on earth would they be heading for Israel?
Goldfinger: "It gets really absurd when I discover that the readers also got a special bonus: a copper medallion. On one side, the symbol of the Jews; on the other, the symbol of those who wanted to get rid of them."
In fact, the filmmaker-cum-detective has only begun scratching the surface at this point; much more will be revealed.
Seventy years past, the Holocaust has spawned a cottage industry of (factual and fictional) stories, exploring every conceivable angle. There have been heroic Nazis, villainous Jews, and every sort of collaboration (for both good and evil) between both factions—to say nothing of players from other geographical regions and political persuasions also involved during that horrid period.
With The Flat, Goldfinger has managed the seemingly impossible, telling an entirely original tale without histrionics, reenactments, leading interview questions, foregone conclusions, or any other of the manipulations we've come to expect from "reality" media these days. One actually gets the impression that the events are unraveling before us exactly as they unraveled before the camera.
MPI delivers this IFC presentation with a nicely rendered 1:78 anamorphic widescreen transfer and an equally representative audio track with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. Optional subtitles are available in English and Spanish, and the lone "extra" is a trailer for the film, important for historical purposes only—ironic, right?
"My dilemma is not what to believe or what not to believe," Goldfinger says, during the final minutes of the film. "I have to decide what to do with what I know."
I don't wish to mislead, or to oversell here—The Flat doesn't lead to skulduggery, the Holy Grail, or anything that will reduce power structures to pillars of salt. Rather, the secrets revealed here astound because they've remained secrets for so long (though a very reasonable explanation for this also comes to light), and like most true human interest stories, there's every possibility that more will be revealed in future.
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