The Flat

“The Flat” is a charming 2011 documentary I recently watched on Netflix. The film, by writer-director Arnon Goldfinger, centers around the flat (i.e., the apartment) of his late grandmother, which over the course of the film, the family empties following her death. During this process, they uncover a pile of old magazines that highlight an element of his grandparents’ past that they were not expecting—it concerns their exit from Nazi Germany prior to the Holocaust.

The Flat
Arnon Goldfinger

I won’t spoil the surprise, because it’s nicely done. But what made me want to share this film here on TeleRead was a delightful early scene where Mr. Goldfinger and his family face the Herculean task of disposing of 70 years worth of Grandma’s books. The first obstacle is that most of the books are in German, and so would have a limited market in Israel, where the film was shot. No problem; they find a collector and summon him in to help with the culling.

But then comes problem number two: The books need to be sorted through to determine what the family can sell, and what they must otherwise—somehow—dispose of. What follows is a horrifyingly comical few minutes where the German book dealer stands on a shelf and pitches book after antique book into the garbage bin. “Nobody reads Balzac,” he chortles at one point, gleefully pitching a hefty volume into the pile. “Even the French don’t read Balzac anymore… “

The FlatShakespeare, he admits, might still get a look-through, but mostly by literature majors, and certainly not in German. Most of Grandma’s books turn out to be absolutely unsellable.

At one point, Goldfinger sheepishly remarks that his grandma would probably be horrified if she could see what they were doing to her precious books, and I have to admit, I agree. But I’m not sure I agree with the German book dealer that nobody reads the classics anymore—I think many classics have held up remarkably well even for the modern reader, and there are many literature enthusiasts (and students!) who enjoy them.

I suppose the only point I will concede to Goldfinger is that by the time I have grandchildren to filter through my stuff, I’m sure tastes will have changed all the more, and much of my stuff won’t interest them any more than Grandma’s German Balzac interested Goldfinger and his family. But the difference will be that my future grandkids will have little manual labor involved with that beyond pitching out a hard drive.

TeleRead Rating:

The Flat

Watch “The Flat” on Amazon Instant Video

Rating: Four e-readers out of five
Rental price: $3.99 for 48 hours on Amazon
Director: Arnon Goldfinger
Studio: IFC Films

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"I’m a journalist, a teacher and an e-book fiend. I work as a French teacher at a K-3 private school. I use drama, music, puppets, props and all manner of tech in my job, and I love it. I enjoy moving between all the classes and having a relationship with each child in the school. Kids are hilarious, and I enjoy watching them grow and learn. My current device of choice for reading is my Amazon Kindle Touch, but I have owned or used devices by Sony, Kobo, Aluratek and others. I also read on my tablet devices using the Kindle app, and I enjoy synching between them, so that I’m always up to date no matter where I am or what I have with me."


  1. i completely agree. While watching “the flat”, I was also amazed at the supposed German ‘book lover’ as he discarded Balzac, Goethe, etc. while saying ‘No one reads this…” Excuse me, but never come into my place to throw out my books! I may be of a different generation, but literature tells us about history, and is that now what Goldfinger is looking for??

  2. I found the movie on Netflix accidentally and watched it a week ago. And it was not very engaging in the beginning till the story moved to Germany. I like the movie and it seems to me that I got the author’s message. Actually there are few of topics in the story told.

    One of them (“the expert’s” explanation of author’s grandparents’ behavior) does not go away and I could find only this website to try bring my view.

    It impossible to explain Jewishness, this feeling comes from inside and Jews have it or might have it and nobody else.

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