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Movie review: Family secrets unearthed in documentary 'The Flat'

Published December 14, 2012 1:35 pm

Review • Director learns grandparents' hidden friendships.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Arnon Goldfinger's documentary "The Flat" is equal parts detective story and family confessional, an intriguing look at how the living try to make sense of what the dead leave behind.

The story begins with the death of Goldfinger's grandmother Gerda Tuchler, a German-born Jew who emigrated with her husband, Kurt, to Palestine (now Israel) in 1936. In digging through his grandmother's belongings, he uncovers an intriguing clipping, a 1934 article from a Nazi newspaper detailing a visit to Palestine by a prominent Nazi official, Leopold von Mildenstein — accompanied by the Tuchlers.

Why, Goldfinger asks, were his Jewish grandparents associating with a Nazi like Mildenstein? The plot deepens as Goldfinger reveals that Mildenstein's successor, and protégé, was Adolf Eichmann — who went on to become one of the architects of the Holocaust.

History, though, is more complicated than simple associations. Mildenstein was a proponent of relocating German Jews to Palestine, so the Tuchlers' friendship with him could be seen as a positive step toward establishing a mass migration. But then why does Goldfinger find evidence that his grandparents visited Mildenstein after World War II, when he was a Coca-Cola executive who claimed he was merely a journalist during the Nazi regime?

The mystery gets even more complicated after Goldfinger interviews a retired journalist who had written a forgiving profile of Mildenstein in the '60s. Then Goldfinger digs into the files of the former East German government, which tell a different story.

The most emotional moments of "The Flat" come in Goldfinger's talks with two women. One is Mildenstein's daughter, the other is Goldfinger's mother. Both are elderly, with deep-set memories of their parents that don't always jibe with the historical record Goldfinger has uncovered. These interviews cast in heartbreaking terms the movie's central question: Once you know the truth, what do you do about it?

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'The Flat'

A filmmaker finds some uncomfortable truths about his grandparents in this absorbing documentary.

Where • Broadway Centre Cinemas.

When • Opens Friday, Dec. 14.

Rating • Not rated, but probably PG-13 for thematic material.

Running time • 97 minutes; in Hebrew with subtitles.