Most people would be lucky to find a medicine cabinet full of expired medication and a trove of dust-covered ribbon candy when cleaning out the houses of their recently deceased loved ones, but Arnon Goldfinger uncovered enough good stuff to justify an entire film.
Or, at least, he thinks he did. The Israeli documentary “The Flat” begins with Goldfinger’s family cleaning out the apartment of his 98-year-old grandmother, who has just died. At first, they uncover plenty of junk that really doesn’t justify the presence of a camera crew and a boom — old bills, dated novels, other random clutter — but soon they discover something that would raise an eyebrow in any Jewish household in Tel Aviv: a pair of World War II-era Nazi newspapers that hinted Goldfinger’s grandparents are not the people he grew up thinking they were.
The most interesting aspect about Goldfinger’s search is that he meets a ton of vibrant, likable, eager-to-chat individuals who are a real treat to listen to, even if the story leading up to their introductions feels hinky and lacks focus. Clearly, this is a story that has fascinated director Goldfinger, but is the material really worthy of a full-fledged 90 minute movie? “The Flat” has gotten a lot of acclamation in Germany and Israel (and it even won best documentary at the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival earlier this year), but it seems to me this is a story with a small, personal feel, and once the movie unleashes its “shocking reveal” a half hour in, there’s still about an hour of meandering left to go.
“The Flat” is a far from terrible film. I did enjoy the first half quite a bit. But as soon as it became evident that Goldfinger had run out of surprising developments to bolster a full-length feature, it occurred to me that “The Flat” would have been so much better if it had just aired as a short subject on PBS instead of a 97-minute long one you have to pay money to see.
★★ (out of ★★★★)
Not rated, but contains nothing objectionable. 97 minutes.
Director: Arnon Goldfinger.