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by Thomas Heise

grade: 7.5

From a film such as Heimat is a Space in Time, with its apparently quiet tones that act as a counterpoint to the subjects treated, one can see great pain, strong nostalgia and, above all, a great, great love for roots, family and, last but not least, homeland.

Time. Space. Our History.

The moment we read the word Heimat in film, we inevitably think of Edgar Reitz’s great masterpiece. A work such as Heimat is a Space in Time (Heimat ist ein Raum aus Zeit) by German documentary filmmaker Thomas Heise, premiered at the 69th Berlinale in the experimental Forum section, therefore bears great responsibility. And the word Heimat – or homeland – has already a multifaceted meaning. So, while the great Edgar Reitz already wanted to stage the history of Germany in his important work, Thomas Heise has waited until 2019 to tell the story of a nation (and in this case, actually, of several nations) through images, by finding and collecting letters, postcards, photographs and even school essays.

Specifically, the story of Germany (and partly Austria) in the 20th century, which intersects with the story of four generations of Heise’s family, from the 1920s in Austria and Germany to the present day. The director’s own voice-over connects everything, and takes on the point of view of one or another member of his family, now reading what has been written over the decades and then letting his thoughts run free.

Heise’s film is ambitious and interesting. It took several years of research and filming to reach completion. It is, in fact – and without fear of exaggeration – the most significant work of the German documentary filmmaker. Significant both from a semantic point of view and in terms of its duration (two hundred and eighteen minutes, compared to previous works with durations ranging from barely an hour to the classic hour and a half, make a real difference).

Shot entirely in black and white (no, there is no reference to Reitz’s Heimat), Heimat is a Space in Time immediately looks like an intimate and contemplative stream of consciousness. Like a personal diary through which one reads the history of a century. Right from the beginning, images of yellowed papers and old photographs alternate with films shot by Heise himself: streets of Vienna, Dresden and Berlin – together with landscapes captured from running trains – run before our eyes, perfectly illustrating the passage of time and how it influences space.

Black and white is almost an attempt to freeze time: images of everyday life, of people returning to their occupations, a young couple greeting each other in a Vienna underground station, a tram from Alser Straße passing by Elterlei Platz, then moving away towards the suburbs, with numerous confusing voices in the background. Everything we see seems to have almost forgotten what happened in the past.

It seems, in fact, that there has never been a war, that no one has ever been deported to extermination camps, it seems – especially for the moments set in Germany – that the nation itself has never been divided in two. And yet, it is precisely thanks to (or because of) what happened in the past (and which involved several members of Thomas Heise’s own family) that the environments, the cities, the people appear to us as they are.

From a work with such apparently quiet tones, with such a tranquil pace that acts as a counterpoint to the subjects dealt with, one can in fact perceive a great pain, a strong nostalgia and, above all, a great, great love for roots, for family and, last but not least, for homeland.

It is probably because of this strong first-person involvement that the author sometimes gets too carried away in focusing on certain aspects of his family history (in particular, a lot of space is devoted to reading the love letters his grandparents exchanged).

There are, in fact, quite a few redundant moments, where Heise seems to (deliberately?) forget about his audience, ending up talking to himself. This is to be expected in a work of such scope (and duration). And yet, due to the singular and very personal staging and the extraordinary ability to make a story evolve by giving a single voice the task of giving life to numerous other voices, it would have been enough just a few cuts here and there to make a work like Heimat is a Space in Time as close to perfection as possible.

Original title: Heimat ist ein Raum aus Zeit
Directed by: Thomas Heise
Country/year: Germany, Austria / 2019
Running time: 218’
Genre: documentary
Screenplay: Thomas Heise
Cinematography: Stefan Neuberger
Produced by:Ma.ja.de Filmproduktion, Navigator Film

Info: the pageof Heimat is a Space in Time (Heimat ist ein Raum aus Zeit) on the website of the Berlinale