Heimat Fragments: The Women (Heimat Fragmente: Die Frauen) Review
The filmmaking career of Edgar Reitz (born 1932) can be divided into two parts. There was his participation in the Oberhausen Group and their manifesto for a new German cinema in the early 1960s (see Anthony Nield's review of the DVD Die Oberhausener, for more details – the release includes Reitz's 1961 short Kommunikation). His first feature, Lust for Love (Mahlzeiten) won a prize at the 1967 Venice Film Festival. However, his 1978 film The Tailor from Ulm, was an expensive flop. Anthony has reviewed their DVD releases here.
Then came Heimat, five years in the making and released in 1984. It was made as an eleven-part serial for German television, but was shot on film and released in cinemas as a four-part, fifteen-and-a-half-hour feature. It followed the fictional village of Schabbach in Reitz's native Hunsrück region of Western Germany, close to the border with Luxembourg, from the early years of the twentieth century to the (then) present day. The central character was Maria Wiegand, later Maria Simon (played throughout by Marita Breuer), born in 1900; the serial begins in 1919 and ends with her death and funeral in 1982. Heimat is one of the great achievements of television and film of the last quarter of the century, and is particularly compelling in its middle episodes dealing with the war years. Maria's youngest son, Hermann (played by Henry Arnold), is the lead character in Heimat 2: Chronicle of a Generation, when he leaves Schabbach for university life in Munich. While his first home (heimat) is where he was born and grew up, the second home is the one he makes, his friends and lovers, all young people finding their way in the world of the later 1960s. Thirteen episodes and twenty-six hours long, Heimat 2, released in 1993, is almost the equal of its predecessor. Heimat 3 took up the life of the now middle-aged Hermann and his second wife Clarissa (Salome Kammer) from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the end of the century. It was a little disappointing – partly due to its characters being older and at some remove from the history they see being made – but still a very worthy follow-up. Heimat 3 came out in 2004, by which time Reitz was seventy-two. The complete saga totalled some fifty-two hours and you had to wonder if there would be any more.
However, in 2006 Reitz released Heimat Fragments: The Women. It begins by replaying the final scenes of Heimat 3 where Hermann's daughter Lulu (Nicola Schössler) is walking with her friends in the early hours of 1 January 2000. Maria, Lulu's grandmother, had been born with the century so the third serial was there at its end. However, a new century is a time of uncertainty. Lulu looks back over her family's history, in particular the women who were members of the family and the women who participated in its story. Much of the film is made up of deleted scenes from all three previous serials (which had all been shot on film, in Reitz and his cinematographers' trademark mixing of colour and black and white) with new footage with Lulu in the present day, shot on digital video (by Christian Reitz, the director's son). So we revisit Maria and Klärchen (Gudrun Landgrebe), the woman whose affair with Hermann caused him to leave Schabbach. We also see the various women in Hermann's life in Munich: not just Clarissa but also Schnüsschen (Anke Sevenich), Hermann's first wife and Lulu's mother, and the other women in their social circle: would-be actress and cabaret singer Renate (Franziska Traub), Helga (Noemi Steuer), who becomes involved in radical politics, Fraulein Cerphal (Hannelore Hoger), owner of a house called Foxholes where the characters congregate, talk into the evening, create their art and fall in and out of love. Through revisiting her family history, Lulu gains some sense of her identity and some hope for her future.
You can watch any of the three serials in isolation (though they definitely gain from a knowledge of what went before), but Heimat Fragments: The Woman does not really stand on its own. Reitz was unable to find the funding to make a sequel following Lulu's story in a conventional way, hence the making use of the extensive offcuts from the earlier serials, and possibly the use of digital SD video for the new material, which has a principal and credited cast of one. As before, there's a distinct showmanship about some of the transitions between colour and black and white, and towards the end Reitz achieves a trompe-l'oeil effect, with film footage coming to life in the walls and inside film cans as Lulu watches.
Heimat Fragments: The Women is best seen as a pendant to the preceding serials, and individual scenes are fine. Admirers of the series will no doubt welcome the chance to revisit the characters they remember from the previous fifty-two hours. However, it is the least essential of the Heimat films.
At the age of eighty-one, Edgar Reitz did in fact make a further Heimat film, this time a prequel taking us back to the nineteenth century and the ancestors of the Simons and Wiegands, in 2013's Home from Home: Chronicle of a Vision.
Bypassing UK cinema release, Heimat Fragments: The Women was released on DVD by Second Sight, a dual-layered disc encoded for Region 2 only.
The DVD transfer is in the ratio of 1.78:1, anamorphically enhanced. The previous serials played in various ways with the contrast between black and white and colour, sometimes both in the same shot, all originated on 35mm film. Heimat Fragments throws a further texture into the mix, with the present-day footage shot on digital video. Time has taken a toll on some of the older footage, which dates back to 1984 and 1993, and splices and scratches are often visible. Also, the first two serials were shot in Academy Ratio (1.37:1), reflecting the ratio of television at the time: the footage from these has been reframed into the wider ratio by cropping either at the top or bottom or both. Meanwhile, the video footage doesn't look filmlike at all, and the contrast is certainly jarring, though clearly not the fault of this DVD.
The soundtrack is in Dolby Surround (2.0) with optional English subtitles for this German-language film. There are no issues with clarity or lipsynch, but pretty much plain mono for most of it and very little use of directional sound.
There are no extras.