HEIMAT-FRAGMENTE - DIE FRAUEN

Report of the German Premiere in the Mainz Staatstheater on October 28th, 2006
and the Hunsrück Premiere in the Pro-Winzkino Simmern on October 29th, 2006  


First of all an important note: the following report makes no claim to be a journalistic or in any way objective work. On the contrary: it is necessarily a personal statement and thereby has a strong subjective colouring, since I am no film critic, and know hardly anything about the art of drama and the technique of film. My motivation (and ultimately this website) arise only from my great enthusiasm for Edgar Reitz and his work. Please remember this when you read the text. I am always open to criticism and suggestions, and further information and impressions. Email me!

Which of us – along with all the hopeful anticipation and curiosity – travelled to Simmern or Mainz without also a certain apprehensiveness about the film that awaited us? Even Edgar Reitz himself seemed to me, at the start of the reception in the foyer of the Staatstheater in Mainz, not really convinced that his latest work, his self-styled Farewell to the well loved characters of the HEIMAT-Trilogy, would be well received by the audience, his audience. And it was he himself too who, in the lead up to the Premieres, tried repeatedly to damp down the euphoria a little, to channel expectations, to make clear what the film was and was not about. Christian Reitz as well appeared guarded: True that the film had gone down very well with the Italian audience at the Biennale, but Italy, that was just something of a home game …

But right from the start, all anxieties and misgivings turned out to be groundless. The HEIMAT- Fragments were given an extraordinarily warm and friendly reception. Straight after the performance in Mainz and on the very next day in Simmern we saw Edgar Reitz in great spirits, happy to talk and looking very relaxed, visibly enjoying the interest, encouragement and sympathy from his audience.

For a start the settings of both events are to be commended. Whereas in Mainz there was the champagne, the liver paté, the celebrities, the dignified ambience, just as satisfying was the Pro-Winzkino yet again, with its familiar and down to earth, homely atmosphere.

In Mainz the regional Ministerpräsident Kurt Beck did not fail to greet the guest of honour personally. His informal, whole-hearted speech showed that he had personally made himself thoroughly familiar with Edgar Reitz and his work – and this obviously not just because he had once participated in a day’s filming as a guest actor on HEIMAT 3. He emphasized the significance of Edgar Reitz’ work as a modern form of historical writing, stressing in particular the great potential for identification with the stories and characters created by Edgar Reitz. Beck also stressed Edgar Reitz’ contribution to the rehabilitation of the concept of Heimat. There remained to be mentioned – even if the publicity material (keyword “Heimat 4”) left something to be desired – the financial support from the Rheinland-Pfalz Cultural Foundation, without which the project could not have been completed.

Edgar Reitz himself had only just left the north Italian town of Como early that morning to come to Mainz. From there he had brought a fascinating story to tell:

Two schoolgirls from the Liceo Ginnasio Statale “A. Volta” had seen HEIMAT and were so enthused by it that they decided to do a project on it. Together with fellow pupils and interested teachers it gave rise to an initiative in which eventually the whole school was involved. From May until the past week (end of October) nearly 300 spectators watched week by week all 30 films of the HEIMAT Trilogy in the the local Cineplex Astoria – financially supported by the town and other sponsors, including the Goethe-Institute in Milan. Finally, last Friday, 27/10, there was a whole day’s conference to which the pupils had invited, along with Edgar Reitz, academics from the faculties of film study from various universities to read papers on HEIMAT (you can see the programme of the Symposium here). An almost ten-hour marathon of papers being read ended with a concert of music: Two pupils, a boy and girl, on piano and cello, had both acquired the nicknames of Hermann and Clarissa soon after they had started rehearsals. After a series of classical works by German composers they ended with a composition by a fellow student P. Casiraghi, which wove together various themes from the music of the HEIMAT Trilogy. After the conference had finished some of the pupils asked Edgar Reitz if they might see HEIMAT-Fragments. He lent them the DVD – and met the group again hours later in the street on the way to the hotel. Edgar Reitz, visibly moved, told how: “These young people opened my eyes to my own film”, by describing the HEIMAT-Fragments as a “collection of beginnings”. Each Fragment was the beginning of a story that could by itself give rise to a whole film, and was only waiting to be continued.

The audience in Mainz was thoroughly mixed: besides the usual officials, in this case in particular political representatives from Mainz and the Hunsrück, and as well as Edgar Reitz’ friends, acquaintances and companions, there appeared a number of actors, especially those from the Hunsrück in HEIMAT 3. Henry Arnold was also present, as well as Andreas Kützer and of course the leading actress Nicola Schössler. In addition there was a host of friends of Edgar Reitz’ films, some of whom had shortly before received invitations arranged through the webmasters of the internet sites. Friends of Edgar Reitz’ films had even travelled from abroad, for example Frits and Banty van der Meij and Gert Jan Jansen from the Netherlands, Ivan Mansley from London, and Angela Skrimshire from the Scottish Island of Colonsay (all known to each other through their involvement in the English mailing list on Reinder Rustema’s website). People stood crowded together at the reception in the foyer, and in all a good 500 spectators wanted to see the film. In Simmern the atmosphere was much more familiar: a good 100 spectators had gathered for the afternoon performance, and many more saw the film on the Sunday or Monday evenings.

At the start of the showing the tension and curiosity among the Mainz audience was palpable. The screen went blue, exactly the blue that was faded in over Lulu’s despairing gaze in the final shot of HEIMAT 3. No music. You could have heard a pin drop. At first the framework plot, in which Lulu alias Nicola Schössler, always (and so at times rather too insistently) furnished symbolically with spade and hand-drill (brace and bit), dug and drilled into her own past, seemed to me rather too dominant in relation to the fragments themselves. Her philosophical voice-over commentaries seemed to me rather too abstract and overladen with meaning. On the other hand it is precisely these that make clear what the film is: it is more than a simple sequence of indubitably wonderful scenes, it is about the task of spinning a guiding thread that Lulu alone holds in her hands. Moreover my initial impression was quite significantly modified as time went on: as the commentaries became less obtrusive and at the same time more concrete, and on the whole easier to take in. The reviewers who focus on single quotations detached and torn from their context (eg. “Little onion jumped across the field …”) in order to represent the quality of the film in question, deserve reproach. Their selection is in no way representative, but rather demonstrates a certain superficiality that comes from not being ready to let themselves engage seriously with the film. All the same, Stefanie Mittenzwei’s objection, expressed in her report on the Mainz Premiere in the RHZ of 30/10, comes closer to the mark:

It is not the young woman who is speaking here, but the old director, who looks back over his life’s work, over 25 years of work on “Heimat”: “My life is made up from the turning of the wheel of  a cinecamera, life chopped up into 24 images per second”, he has her say. It is his farewell to the characters that not only he alone has held dear. In these Fragments Reitz says “Good-bye” in many ways.

The subtitle “The Women” holds the work together like a clamp. It is about the fates, the characters and the images of the women, developed through the films of the Trilogy. In the Fragments, Edgar Reitz has succeeded in drawing penetrating and expressive portraits of his female creations, so that many a fragment, say about Olga and Evelyne, reveals to the viewer hitherto unsuspected facets of the characters, and thereby a deeper understanding.

Along with the deepening, the new insights and the variants of already well-known scenes, the Fragments offer in all earnest and philosophical depth a number of funny, even sometimes scurrilous scenes. In the latter respect I am thinking particularly of Tillmann and Moni’s wedding, but I would rather not give away yet what awaits you there. Simply watch it yourselves, if you have not already done so, and marvel.

The timeline of the Fragments takes off directly from Lulu’s bewildered gaze out of the window on New Year’s Day in 2000. Her dialogue with Roland and his friend on the bank of the Main at Frankfurt is repeated once again, where she gives voice to her desperate life situation. As though in a mirror, she turns her gaze out of the window inwards, and at the same time away from the future to the past. Her journey through time begins with a series of fragments from HEIMAT and HEIMAT 3, before her vision focusses more narrowly on her birthplace in Munich, and her father Hermann’s circumstances and emotional straying. Proportionately the fragments from HEIMAT and HEIMAT 3 make up a good third of the film (aside from the framework plot). The material comes preponderantly from the storehouse of DIE ZWEITE HEIMAT, which can be explained in terms of the size and financial endowment of this part of the Trilogy alone. The film music likewise comes from the storehouse of all three parts of the Trilogy, but in the process its original allocation was abandoned[ for the Fragments. It is amazing to discover how well for instance music from HEIMAT 3 suits a scene from DIE ZWEITE HEIMAT.

To find a key to this film one must be prepared to engage with Lulu’s monologues, that turn on the structure of time and memory, and more and more also on the question of her own identity. A good knowledge of the characters and contexts in the HEIMAT-Trilogy is certainly a good but not an indispensable prerequisite for understanding the Fragments. In the question and answer session after the premiere in the Pro-Winzkino in Simmern I asked Edgar Reitz directly about this, and he himself found it hard to judge whether the film would be accessible also to a wider audience. It was heart warming that at that point several spectators with no experience of HEIMAT spoke up and reported that they had enjoyed the film and that the relationships had been easy for them to follow in spite of their previous lack of knowledge of the stories and characters. To this extent the Fragments may possibly even be able to waken interest in seeing the whole of the Trilogy, and thus to be far more than just a “Retrospective review that of course can only be recommended to those who know and love this saga”, as Rupert Koppold said in his Report from the Biennale .

With HEIMAT-Fragments Edgar Reitz has given us a valuable, enriching epilogue to the Trilogy. The film convinces, by its density of content, by its high intellectual level and its craftsmanlike quality, even though for me personally the occasional digitally inserted alienation effects were not always comfortable. The scenes are often so rich and expressive that one wonders how such gems could have fallen under the (cutting-) table. Edgar Reitz confirmed that he had the same impression at this distance in time, and explained in principle that composing a film was a question of rhythm, that could not as perhaps in music be measured by precise technical means. It was far more the outcome of perceiving the interaction of the various images, scenes and sequences. So it seems that shortening a film can give the spectator a subjective impression of lengthening it (by making it seem boring), and vice versa. That is why the shortened TV versions of HEIMAT 3 which were used in Germany are an appropriate if unhappy example of this.

What Edgar Reitz up to now has not managed to do at all, and never will manage to do, is to initiate a farewell to the Trilogy and its familiar characters. For his films are more than mere stories. They move many people most deeply, they enable memory and identification, they have become part of his and also our biographies. And once again this is absolutely not a question of the inability to differentiate between reality and fiction, but simply and poignantly one of emotion and introspection. It is not only the example from Italy that shows us the power and magic of these films. Edgar Reitz has given us a unique gift. Let us take care of it together, so that future generations too may find access to it.

 

© Originally written by Thomas Hönemann, translated by Angela Skrimshire, with the author’s help, Nov. 11th, 2006.

No publication, even in abstract, without our prior authorization.

 

Finally a little gallery of pictures to illustrate the report. Click on the miniatures to get a larger view.

companions: Edgar Reitz mit Ingrid Weirich, Jutta und Jörg Altmeyer, Werner Litzenberger and others Ministerpräsident Kurt Beck at his welcoming speach Edgar Reitz at his speach view from the gallery down to the foyer of the theater
With HEIMAT-friends Andreas Fuchs, Markus Austgen, Michael Adams and Werner Magar Thomas Hönemann with Angela Skrimshire, who took the effort to travel from the Isle of Colonsay (Scotland) 4000 meters of HEIMAT-Fragments on  the film spool at the Pro-Winzkino Simmern Q&A with Edgar Reitz at the
Pro-Winzkino Simmern