Heimat 3: A Chronicle of Endings and Beginnings (Heimat 3: Chronik einer Zeitenwende) Review
Chronologically our last sight of Hermann Simon was at his mother’s funeral in 1982, in the final episode of Heimat. Heimat 3 begins on 9 November 1989, when Hermann (Henry Arnold) is in Berlin to conduct a concert at the Philharmonic Hall. Meanwhile, history is being made as the Berlin Wall is opened. That night, quite by chance, Hermann meets Clarissa (Salome Kammer), his occasional lover and muse from the 60s (see Heimat 2). As they make love in his hotel room, the TV shows images of rejoicing crowds at the Brandenburg Gate.
So far, this is familiar ground for anyone who has seen the previous two Heimat serials. In one scene, Edgar Reitz ties together a personal story with the larger workings of history. Yet there’s a difference, perhaps inevitable as his leading characters are middle-aged now. The first Heimat showed history in the making, while the second serial presented a group of young people in a world full of possibilities, eager to make their mark on the world. Heimat 3 is a more domestic drama, and history takes place at one remove from most of the characters.
There’s certainly no shortage of incident and plenty of engaging characters, in Reitz and Thomas Brussig’s script. Hermann and Clarissa move back to his childhood home of Schabbach, in the Hunsrück region of Germany. Much of the first episode involves Hermann’s building of a house for himself and Clarissa in Schabbach, which gives Reitz the opportunity to introduce a wide range of characters, from family and friends to the “Ossi” labourers employed to do the building. As the serial progresses, we follow their progress over the next decade. As Germany reunifies – not without its problems – Gunnar (Uwe Steimle) becomes an entrepreneur, selling bits of the Wall to tourists. Immigrants from the former Eastern Europe arrive, including Galina (Larissa Iwlewa), a Russian girl who arrives in Germany with a baby in tow, and Matko (Patrick Mayer), a Bosnian boy whose tragic story is told in Episode 5. Meanwhile, Hermann has difficulties with his daughter Lulu, real name Simone (Nicola Schössler), and his and Clarissa’s relationship runs into trouble.
Through all this, we see notable events of the decade: a moment of national pride when Germany win the 1990 World Cup; the 1999 total eclipse of the Sun. The series ends with a party to celebrate the new millennium. But the very last scene is with Lulu, with her friends in the early hours of 1 January 2000. Maria, the central character of the first Heimat, was born with the twentieth century, so it’s fitting that the end of the cycle finishes at the century’s end. Reitz has spoken of the possibility of a fourth Heimat, and it would certainly be fascinating to see his characters in a post-9/11 age. However, Reitz is in his seventies now, and this serial was difficult to finance and to make, so it’s questionable if that fourth series will ever see the light of day.
If, as I hint above, Heimat 3 seems more of an epic soap opera than its predecessors, that’s both a criticism and not. There’s certainly the narrative pull of the best dramas, and there’s no question that the whole serial is impeccably made. Over eleven hours it’s inevitable that there are some longueurs: in what seems a Heimat characteristic, they tend to set in around the three-quarter mark, only for the serial to pick up again for its ending. Matko’s story in Episode 5 is, for me, not as involving as it perhaps should have been. There’s also a sense that the serial is a little more conventional than its predecessors. There’s nothing so bold as the deliberately anti-realistic final episode of Heimat 2. Another example of this is the serials’ trademark mixing of colour and black and white. The first Heimat primarily used black and white as the norm and colour (by all accounts intuitively) for emphasis, with a couple of episodes reversing the pattern. The second serial generally fell into the pattern of monochrome for daytime, colour for night. In this serial, there’s a fair amount of black and white material early on, as Reitz tends to shoot scenes in the former East Germany that way, to underline the fact that this is a place that no longer exists. But colour predominates after the first three episodes. The fourth episode has only one five-minute scene in black and white, and the final two episodes are the only ones in the entire Heimat cycle to be in colour throughout. The camerawork, by former Werner Herzog regular Thomas Mauch (the first four episodes) and the director’s son Christian Reitz (the final two episodes), is first-rate. As before, there's not a false note in the cast, made up of professionals and non-pros. Henry Arnold and Salome Kammer reprise their roles from Heimat 2, while Matthias Kniesbeck and Michael Kausch return from the first series as Hermann's older half-brothers Anton and Ernst. Anke Sevenich makes a brief return appearance as Waltraud (pet name Schnüsschen), Hermann's ex-wife and the mother of Lulu/Simone.
If I seem a little disappointed by Heimat 3 that’s only because it doesn’t quite measure up to the first two Heimats, which are respectively a masterpiece and a very worthy follow-up. Even so, there is plenty here to demonstrate Reitz’s mastery of the long-form TV serial that can also stand up superbly on the big screen. (I saw it in the cinema on its London release earlier this year, having only seen the first two serials on TV broadcast and DVD.) The entire Heimat cycle will take fifty-two hours of your time, but that will be well spent.
Artificial Eye were the cinema distributors of the first and third Heimats (the second didn’t get a cinema release in the UK) and they take over from Tartan as the DVD distributor as well. As with the two previous releases, the series comes packaged as a “book”. There are six dual-layer discs, with one episode on each, as follows:
1: Das glückliste Volk der Welt/The Happiest People in the World (1989) (101:31)
2: Die Weltmeister/World Champions (1990) (95:44)
3: Die Russen kommen/The Russians are Coming (1992-93) (119:31)
4: Allen geh’s gut/Everyone’s Doing Well (1995) (126:22)
5: Die Erben/The Heirs (1997) (100:38)
6: Abschied von Schabbach/Farewell to Schabbach (1999) (110:04)
This is the full-length Heimat 3, not the version shown on German TV in which each episode was cut to 90 minutes. That version was disowned by Reitz, who has ensured that the complete eleven hours is shown abroad.
The first two Heimats, given their television origins and funding, were filmed in 35mm Academy Ratio (1.37:1). Heimat 3 is a product of the widescreen era, and is transferred to DVD anamorphically in a ratio of 1.78:1, which corresponds to the widescreen TV ratio of 16:9. (At the cinema showings I attended, it was projected in 1.66:1, but the 16:9 framing seems correct.) Unlike the Tartan releases, these seem to be actual PAL transfers rather than standards conversions from NTSC, and you can tell the difference: the picture is pin-sharp both in colour and in black and white. There’s some softness in longer shots and a little grain, but I suspect that’s due to the original materials than the transfer. (I should say that the Tartan DVDs were far from the worst standards conversions I’ve ever seen, but they did have a certain softness that isn’t present here.)
The first Heimat had mono sound, but by the time Heimat 2 was made, stereo sound for television had arrived. Heimat 3 has a 2.0 soundtrack which plays in surround if your system is set to analogue (ProLogic) mode. It’s quite an immersive track, with considerable use of the surrounds for ambience and directional effects, not to mention the music score by Nikos Mamangakis and Michael Riessler. Subtitles are optional, for those fluent in German. The number of chapter stops varies per episode: respectively, ten, twelve, fourteen, thirteen, fifteen and fifteen.
Two documentaries are included on Disc One. "Schabbach is Everywhere" (58:25) was directed by Utz Kastenholz for German television. It begins with the final day of shooting of Heimat 3 and goes on to speak to locals who acted or otherwise participated in the new series or the original, with input from Reitz himself. It's a portrait of the way the fictional village of Schabbach has captured the imaginations of viewers worldwide: there are even tourist excursions to the places where certain scenes were filmed, for example the Simon family smithy which Paul sees in the opening scene of the first series. The film does digress somewhat in the middle, with time spent on the region's protest against nuclear missiles being kept at nearby US bases and interviews with East-European and ex-Soviet immigrants to the area, but on the whole it's an engaging piece. It's presented anamorphically in a ratio of 1.78:1, with extracts from the first Heimat and some behind-the-scenes footage of that serial windowboxed into 4:3.
Secondly, there's an interview with Reitz, which is in 4:3 and runs 32:13. In this, the director talks to camera about his own upbringing in the Hunsrück region, the inspiration for the Heimat cycle and his working methods, and how shooting Heimat 2 in Berlin in 1989 sowed the seed for the third serial. Reitz speaks in German; English subtitles are optional for both documentaries.
As with the two earlier releases from Tartan, a book is included with the DVDs. This is again written by David Parkinson and is as thorough as before. It provides a historical timeline, synopses of the episodes, cast and crew listings and biographies, plus chapters on the series’s setting, “Heimat 3 in context” and “The Making of Heimat 3”. All in all, very useful, particularly to keep track of the series’s many characters.
All though this is a lesser series than its predecessors – though still more than worth seeing – Artificial Eye have certainly equalled, if not outdone, Tartan’s work on the DVD releases of Heimat and Heimat 2. Very highly recommended.
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