Heimat 2: Chronicle of a Generation (Die zweite Heimat) Review
This review contains some minor plot spoilers
Edgar Reitz took five years to make Heimat and another seven to make this follow-up. In the first serial, he had confined himself to telling the stories of the people who had stayed behind in the village of Schabbach, in the Hunsrück region of Germany. In his second long-form serial, he wanted to tell the story of one who left. “Heimat” literally translates as “Homeland”, but in German the word has more complex nuances than that. In the first series, “Heimat” was the place where you were born, your family and your neighbours, the home you are given by fate. The second “Heimat” (and that’s the title of the present serial: Die Zweite Heimat) is the one you make for yourself as an adult, of the place in the world you establish for yourself, your friends and the family you make. He tells this story amongst the social changes of the 1960s. This is the only one of the three Heimat series to be written by Reitz solo, and Robert Busch is credited as “co-director”.
The central character is Hermann Simon (Henry Arnold), the third son of Maria. Heimat 2 is an unusual sequel in that it doesn’t follow on from its predecessor. Chronologically, it takes place between Episodes 9 and 11 of Heimat, overlapping Episode 10. You don’t have to have seen the first serial, as all you need to know is set up in the opening fifteen minutes. We begin in 1960. Following the bad ending of his affair with Klärchen (in Episode 9 of Heimat), twenty-year-old Hermann leaves Schabbach to study music in Munich. He makes two vows: never to return to his home village, and never to fall in love again. As he find his feet at college, he begins to make friends, in particular Clarissa (Salome Kammer) a beautiful and gifted cellist. There’s an attraction between them, but it’s not consummated. At first, a triangle develops: Hermann, Clarissa and Juan (Daniel Smith), a possibly too gifted Chilean student; as the series develops both of them find other partners, both transitory and more long-term.
For Hermann, “home” becomes a house called Foxholes, owned by Fraulein Cerphal (Hannelore Hoger). With her patronage Hermann is allowed to live there, and at night-times it becomes a place where Hermann and his friends meet, talk about life and art, interact, make music, fall in and out of love. In its first seven episodes, Heimat 2 is one of the finest evocations of being young, in a world full of possibilities. The men and women – musicians and singers, actors, filmmakers, a philosopher – who gather at Foxholes are talented, in some cases too aware of it. But this comes to an end in Episode Eight (set in 1964), with Hermann’s marriage to Waltraud, nicknamed Schnüsschen (Anke Sevenich), a woman like him from the Hunsrück, who has come to Munich to work as a travel guide. After an incident at the reception, Fraulein Cerphal bans everyone from the house. Foxholes is sold in Episode Nine and demolished at the start of Episode Ten, by which time the group has begun to disperse. By the end of the story, some of them are married with children, one has left the country, one is a wanted terrorist and two are dead. Hermann has an early brush with politics when his guitar is smashed and he is accused of being a “beatnik” after a riot, but he tends to stand aside from the fray. On the other hand, he’s happy to indulge in free love, which wrecks his marriage. Feminism has an impact, not just on Clarissa and Schnüsschen, but particularly on Helga (Noemi Steuer), who embraces revolutionary politics and becomes a member of the Baader-Meinhof gang.
Reitz is a master of showing rather than telling: he doesn’t judge his characters but allows us to find out all we need to know by watching what they say and do. Henry Arnold takes over the role of Hermann from Peter Harting, who played the role in the final two episodes of Heimat, and he and Salome Kammer would continue their roles in 2004’s Heimat 3. Eva Maria Bayerwaltes (Aunt Pauline) and, briefly at the very end, Kurt Wagner (Glasisch), reprise their roles from the first series. The ensemble cast is faultless, so I won’t single anyone out. These are all complex, three-dimensional people. Although Hermann is the central character, one of the others takes centre stage in a given episode (see the title list below). However, it says something of the richness of this serial that thirteen episodes and twenty-five hours is not enough, and you wander about the characters who don't have their share of the spotlight: vivacious would-be actress Renate (Franziska Traub), who ends up running a nightclub; Volker (Armin Fuchs), a gifted pianist but imperceptive as a human being, who loves Clarissa but she doesn’t love him back. In this sense of density, of stories going on just offscreen, Heimat 2 has the feel of an epic novel.
This is all told in a style that is leisurely but rarely too slow. There are some longueurs, mostly for me in Episodes Nine and Ten. It’s not the fault of the actors, but these episodes centred on characters (Fraulein Cerphal and Reinhard) who I found less interesting than others. The serial covers a tremendous range of emotion and incident, enhanced by some unforced symbolism and, especially in the final episode, occasional moves away from strict realism. (Unless of course Hermann really does bump into all his former friends on a train journey round the country.)
As with the first series, Heimat 2 is filmed in a mixture of black and white and colour. After the almost intuitive use of colour for emphasis in Heimat, Reitz has refined his method. The serial begins in colour, but from the time, fifteen minutes in, when Hermann leaves the train at Munich, daytime scenes are in black and white and nighttime in colour. This pattern is very rarely altered, though Reitz occasionally creates emphasis by having a coloured object in a monochrome frame, or vice versa. There’s a definite showmanship about these, and some of the transitions from one to the other. A favourite is half an hour in to Episode 3, which up to then had been entirely in black and white. Reitz cuts to a white projection screen, then someone’s head comes into frame, giving our eyes a small jolt: we are now in colour. The final scene of Episode 13, when Hermann returns to Schabbach, returns to colour. However, it’s a credit to the work of the serial’s three DPs (Heimat’s Gernot Roll, Gerard Vandenberg and the director’s son Christian Reitz) that they create such a range of moods in either medium.
Like its predecessor, Heimat was made with television funding: sixteen companies, the BBC among them, are listed at the end of the credits. However, it was also intended for cinema exhibition. It failed to get this in the UK (unlike the first and third serials), no doubt due to its length, but showings in Germany and Italy make it the longest commercially-shown film in history. It was shown on BBC2 in 1994.
Heimat 2 is released on seven discs: six DVD-9s containing two episodes each, with the final episode on a DVD-5. The discs are encoded for Region 2 only and have optional German subtitles. The episodes are as follows:
1. Die Zeit der ersten Lieder (The Time of the First Songs) – Hermann 1960 (116:02)
2. Zwei fremde Augen (Two Strange Eyes) – Juan 1960/61 (115:12)
3. Eifersucht und Stoltz (Jealousy and Pride) – Evelyne 1961 (115:45)
4. Ansgars Tod (Ansgar’s Death) – Ansgar 1961/62 (100:00)
5. Das Spiel mit der Freiheit (The Game of Freedom) – Helga 1962 (119:51)
6. Kennedys Kinder (Kennedy’s Children) – Alex 1963 (108:37)
7. Weihnachtswölfe (Christmas Wolves) – Clarissa 1963 (109:44)
8. Die Hochzeit (The Wedding) – Schnüsschen 1964 (120:03)
9. Die ewige Tochter (The Eternal Daughter) – Fraulein Cerphal 1965 (117:49)
10. Das Ende der Zunkunft (The End of the Future) – Reinhard 1966 (131:10)
11. Die Zeit des Schweigens (The Time of Silence) – Rob 1967/68 (117:39)
12. Die Zeit der vielen Worte (The Time of Many Words) – Stefan 1968/69 (119:02)
13. Kunst oder Leben (Art or Life) – Herman and Clarissa 1970 (118:47)
The DVD transfer is in the ratio of 1.33:1, which you would expect from a television production of the pre-widescreen era. Judging the picture quality is problematic, as it may well depend on which equipment you view this on. I watched the entire serial on a 28” widescreen TV set, and sampled the discs on a PC with a DVD-ROM drive for this review. The transfer is a little soft, the colour material more so, than the black and white, though the range of colours is good. However, the episodes on the first checkdisc were even softer, with considerable motion blur, leading me to suspect I had a NTSC-to-PAL conversion on my hand. However, this fault doesn’t occur on the remaining discs, so I shall have to give the set the benefit of the doubt and assume that this was simply a bad pressing for this checkdisc, and this is not representative of retail copies.
One technical advance in the nine years between the two series was the introduction of stereo sound for television. Heimat 2 has a 2.0 soundtrack which plays as Dolby Surround in Prologic. This is used frequently for ambient sounds – a thunderstorm, the crowd at the Oktoberfest, to name two examples – as well as Nikos Mamangakis’s music score. The all-important dialogue is always clear, and the optional English subtitles readable. Each episode has sixteen chapter stops.
The only extra was, as with the first series, a booklet by David Parkinson, but as this was not supplied for review, I can’t comment on it.
Heimat 2 is a different serial to Heimat, concentrating on a smaller stretch of time, and a narrower range of people, and it doesn’t quite have the impact of the wartime scenes of the first serial. However, it’s a more than worthy follow-up. The Heimat cycle, which with Heimat 3 now totals fifty-two hours, is simply one of the greatest works ever made for television anywhere in the world.
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