The residence in the “The Flat” belongs to the director’s grandmother, Gerda Tuchler. It’s a tastefully appointed apartment in Tel Aviv, featuring a remarkable library and an impressive collection of purses, rugs, formal gloves, and snout-to-tail fur outerwear. Her grandson Arnon Goldfinger begins his documentary not long after her death at 98, and for about half an hour, it’s helplessly cute. The family fills the space in order to empty it. Decades of a life are stuffed into garbage bags or tossed over the balcony, usually while an oboe whines, a piano twinkles, or something chimes on the soundtrack. Why do filmmakers do this? It’s not artistic or mood inducing. It’s just musical busywork.
It’s like a nervous tic in this movie, something that surfaces in the face of the discomfiting scandal at the film’s center. All that mirthful emptying out turns up a mystery. Gerda and her husband, Kurt, were German Jews who lived most of their lives as Zionists in Israel. But for many years after WWII they maintained a friendship with the von Mildensteins, a baron and baroness of sorts. The baron, Leopold, was a propagandist and SS officer. He traveled with the Tuchlers and was a German who viewed Zionism, in part, as a practical means of getting Jews out of Germany and to Palestine. Goldfinger asks his mother, Hannah, whether she’d ever heard about these friends of her parents. She says no. Hannah’s mother never talked about the past, and it’s obvious from Hannah’s tense demeanor that she’d prefer not to as well.