Heimat 2:The Second Homeland

February 2, 2009 at 4:27 am (Cinema, Kiran David)

 

Years ago, probably in the late 80s of the previous century, I was fortunate enough to see Edgar Reitz’s eleven part TV Film Heimat at the Max Mueller Bhavan in Kala Ghoda, Mumbai.

 

Set in the fictional village of Schabbach in the Hunsruck area of Rhineland Germany, the story of Heimat begins in 1919, at the end of World War I and ends in 1982, chronicling the years between through the lives of the Simon family, their friends and relatives.

 

The title is partly ironic in its reference to the cloying Heimat films made during 50s postwar-Germany, with their rural settings, sentimentality and simplistic ideals.

 

While being well received, it was, in some quarters, accused of sidestepping key issues like the holocaust. While not directly dealing with this, I think the criticism is unfair because one senses the effects of Nazism looming over the village and affecting the people and shaping their lives and decisions. At a running time of about fifteen hours, Reitz’s film is proof (along with Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz) that interesting things can be done on television.

 

Sometime in the early 90s, I heard that there was a Heimat 2: A Chronicle of a Generation, and strangely, I was skeptical of it being any good, and never really bothered to locate and see it. People who had seen it did not endorse the project either. However, a recent screening of it literally blew my mind. Not only was it good, but in many ways it was a better work than Part 1.

 

The original German title Die Zweite Heimat (wrongly translated as Heimat 2) actually means The Second Homeland, which carries a much more loaded inference.

 

Beginning in 1960 Munich, it breaks away from the thread of the earlier film, and follows the life of Hermann Simon [Henry Arnold], the son of Maria and her wartime lover Otto. Hermann leaves Schabbach after his family ends his affair with an older woman Klarchen, swearing never to return. Herman is the central figure around whom the work revolves, but it also follows the lives of various artists who are both primarily and peripherally connected to his life, musicians, poets and filmmakers trying to find their voice in the 60s.

 

Divided into thirteen parts and about twenty-six hours in length, it pulls us into the question of artistic endeavor. I do not remember seeing any film that deals with young artists with such affection and understanding. While they are shown as uncompromising adults who see themselves as Gods hoping to create a new art, be it in music or cinema, they often flounder and are plagued by doubt. As artists they are uncompromising (or hope to be), yet as young men and women they are so human, experiencing all the insecurities and jealousies of young love.

 

Being set in the 60s, the time when the filmmakers of the German New Wave were in the process of emerging, Reitz seems to have an in-depth understanding of the time and the milieu – there are references to the Oberhausen manifesto, the beating up of young free spirits by the cops, the Bohemian spirit of the times and above all, the quest for pure unfettered art.

 

The film also deals with the rift between the protagonists and their parents’ generation. There is an intense hatred for what they believed their parents stood for and they hold them responsible for Germany’s past including the terrible Nazi era. This is most harrowingly addressed in the relationship between Ansgar Hertzsprung [Michael Seyfried], possibly the genius of the group who dies early, and his parents. The slogan from the Oberhausen Manifesto – ‘Papa Cinema Is Dead’ – seems therefore to go well beyond cinema and comments on the nature of the prevalent situation and the unbridgeable rift.

 

As affectionately as Reitz deals with the artists and their quests, he seems rather harsh when dealing with politics, and the youth who lean toward the left. Particularly when dealing with Helga Aufschrey [Noemi Steur], he gives her an abrasive persona and you get the feeling that her political beliefs exist to offset her inability to get love from Hermann. Similarly Kathrin Schops [Carolin Fink], the leftist and hippie, seems to forget all her communist posturing after fucking Hermann.

 

For me as a viewer, dealing with the political side of the work put me in a quandary of sorts. Unlike Godard who treated his protagonists of the 60s (with all their foibles and inconsistencies) with great compassion, Reitz almost seems mean towards them and pushes them toward caricature. One reason could be that Godard’s films stemmed from the moment whereas Edgar Reitz film is viewing the moment from a distance of thirty years, having experienced and seen the history of the left up to the 90s. Secondly, there could be some truth, cynical as it may sound, in people gravitating towards ideology to seek comfort, without the necessary beliefs based on reason, something that I often noticed and talked about as a student in the 70s.

 

Another problem, though minor, is the director’s use of dreams which often strike a false note. Clarissa Litchblau’s [Salome Kammer] dream of the cello’s f-holes etched on her back just does not ring true, even though it foreshadows events later on in the narrative. The last chapter when Hermann seems to traverse a dreamscape populated by the people he knows also creates confusion instead of working like a coda of sorts. 

 

While the character of Hermann is the glue that holds the work together, each of the thirteen parts foregrounds one of the major characters. The cast is handpicked and works beautifully, each actor generously contributing even in episodes where they have small parts.  Some of them are not actors, Reitz has cast musicians in many of the key roles so that they look and feel comfortable while playing the instruments of their choice.

 

 

Despite minor discrepancies, this is a monumental work, where protagonists seek their homeland in the art they love. Heimat 2 ends with Hermann still in a quandary, searching, and finally going back to Schabbach, reminding us of the first film when Paul Simon leaves, passing to my joy on his way into the village Glasisch Karl [Kurt Wagner], my favorite character from the earlier film.

 

So finally, I hope to see Heimat 3: A Chronicle of Endings and Beginnings soon, which begins with the fall of the Berlin Wall and Heimat Fragments which uses, out-takes from the three films as well as new footage.

 

– Kiran David

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