(West Germany 1984 923m) DVD1/2
Aka. Heimat: Eine Deutsche Chronik/Homeland
A 1938 film, starring Zarah Leander
p/d Edgar Reitz w Edgar Reitz, Peter Steinbach ph Gernot Roll ed Heidi Handorf m Nikos Mamangakis art Franz Bauer
Marita Breuer (Maria Wiegand-Simon), Michael Lesch (young Paul Simon), Dieter Schaad (older Paul Simon), Karin Kienzler (Pauline Simon), Eva Maria Bayerswaltes (older Pauline Simon), Rüdiger Weigang (Eduard Simon), Karin Rasenack (Lucie), Peter Harting (Hermann Simon), Jörg Richter (young Hermann Simon), Gertrude Bredel (Katharina Simon), Willi Berger (Mathias Simon), Johannes Lobewein (Alois Wiegand), Kurt Wagner (Glasisch-Karl), Eva Marie Schneider (Marie-Goot), Manfred Kühn (Wirt), Hans-Jürgen Schaltz (Wilfried Wiegand), Jörg Hube (Otto Wohlleben), Sabine Wagner (Martha), Helga Bender (Martina), Arno Lang (Kröber),
Just think for a minute of that magical photo library in Shooting the Past and let’s assume a fiction within the fiction and make this proposition; if there was a small cardboard box on a shelf in that establishment marked Schabbach, Hunsrück, Germany (c.1919-1982), could the photographs therein, many of them taken by local resident Eduard Simon, have told the story that Edgar Reitz and his collaborators here unfold? The answer is of course negative, and yet having seen the lives taking place, each of the photographs we see in the narrated recaps at the beginning of individual episodes strikes a memory, which of course sums up the dual magic of photographs; instant remembrance for those who witnessed, and a source of much fantasy for those who do not.
In truth it’s impossible to do Reitz’s achievement justice in a mere page, and trying to describe the plot is ultimately superfluous. Fundamentally we see a small German village age from just after World War I in 1919 through to 1982, as the villagers go through the rise of Nazism, the second war and post-modernism. And though the central character is generally seen to be Breuer’s Maria, who we see age, like the century, from 19 to her death at 82, the real protagonist is Wagner’s village idiot who is not as idiotic as he seems and provides the nostalgic narration. His eventual death, at the series’ finale, provides the most fitting of endings, wistful, poetic and wholly miraculous.
In truth, Heimat shows that the title is as much a state of mind as an actual place, and is a work for which the very adjective ‘miraculous’ was created, a miracle of a film which, though intended to be viewed and premiered on the big screen, manages to be both pure TV and cinema. The gorgeous photography reminded some of the tone of Tarkovsky’s Stalker and The Sacrifice, further enhanced by the cutting between black and white to colour (and even sepia) and back again. In reality, the monochrome adds to the period authenticity (colour only really takes over in the final episode), and the use of colour prior to then gives rise to some beautiful moments of dramatic emphasis (think of the Nazi flags highlighted in red or the red rubies in the death’s head jewellery). And one such use of colour truly does take the breath away, as a young war bride has fifty red carnations thrown at her feet from her brother-in-law flying past in a commandeered aircraft, which suddenly bloom in full colour in her hands. Equally magical on an emotional level is the village idiot’s being the only one to understand the influence of nature’s sounds on Hermann’s music, while the darker side is perfectly summed up in Wilfried’s shocking analogy between the Jews and a chimney at a Christmas gathering. As for the individual contributions, there just isn’t the time or room to do them justice; suffice it to say the imperious Breuer as Maria and the unforgettable Wagner as Glasisch stand out amongst a peerless ensemble. Particularly brilliant in the way it shows Nazism’s slow insidious doctrinisation of otherwise good folk, Reitz’s village becomes a microcosm of German society in the 20th century, finally showing how the eponymous term itself is no more, existing only in the collective memory. “Killing time is murder” we are told, but never was the spending of fifteen hours of anyone’s life more rewarding.