Thoughtful reviews, the Boulder film scene

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— Jason Scott Lee, Dragon: the Bruce Lee Story

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Les Choristes

The French confection Les Choristes is now available on a skimpy, movie-only DVD —Matt Anderson (DVD review...)

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Imagine an encore lasting 680 minutes... or maybe one of those end-of-the-film wrap-ups that tell you what happened to the main players, only this time running for almost 12 additional hours. That might sum up Heimat 3, the last third of director Edgar Reitz’s epic German film opus. It is the best of the series and it is the least of them.

Of the three Heimats, Heimat 3is the one that is most dependent on the other two. Heimat II was marginally related to the first one in that it did borrow some back story and the main character, the young music student Herman Simon. Sometimes the story lines meshed and at other times they didn’t and whole themes that were most important in the first were ignored in the second. But the third Heimat can accurately be called the next installment in the story line established with Heimat II. I have to wonder how much pressure Reitz may have been under from fans of Heimat II to continue the story. Maybe this was the best way to get them to stop asking “What happened to Herman and Clarissa?”

The best of the series, and the least of them
The best of the series, and the least of them

And maybe this is why Heimat 3feels like it’s filling in the blanks whereas Heimat and Heimat II were their own works. This is not to say that Heimat 3is without its own robust story lines nor its own share of historical awareness. Reitz calls Heimat 3“a Chronicle of Endings and Beginnings” which is accurate, but for me a better summation would be the one word “Reunification.” Between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany, the return of Herman Simon to his roots in the Hunsrück, Herman and Clarissa’s reuniting, “reunification” is so obvious that perhaps it was too obvious for Reitz to use it. Indeed Herman, now a world-famous conductor and composer, is commissioned to write a ‘Reunification Symphony’. The thought was clearly there if not the actual words.

I think Reitz has a lighter touch in Heimat 3 than in the first two Heimats. There are some genuinely comic turns in Heimat 3to go with the drama. In Heimat there was one attempt at a farcical situation when the locals try to pan for gold from the local creek (it is named “Gold Creek” after all), but it seemed out of place with the misery and pain of the time after WWI and the rise of the Nazis. I thought that most of the characters in Heimat 3have some foolish aspects and there is a lot of easy and relaxed humor. So when the drama does arrive, the pathos is perhaps even greater than it might have been in a more straight-laced production. Heimat 3has some truly heartbreaking scenes but unlike the previous two Heimats, the melancholy does not predominate.

Most of the characters we met in Heimat II return and (better still) they are played by the same actors. Herman Simon (Henry Arnold) is not as forceful a character as before yet he has developed a very mature and refined appearance. He seems more bemused and removed from the action around him. When he’s conducting he looked to me like a smaller Furtwängler. But his movement and even his flashing eyes remind me more of Charlie Chaplin. This effect is amped when Herman is injured and has to use a cane... the Little Tramp never looked so good.

Salome Kammer returns as Clarissa Lichtblau. Clarissa had given up the cello in Heimat II and started a new career as a singer. Kammer was actually playing her cello parts in Heimat II and now we get to hear her sing... and she’s really got some pipes. But in keeping with the more lighthearted tone, her music is not as dark as when we last saw her in 1979. We find her in Heimat 3as well established in the music world as Hermann. In fact they have been so busy performing all over the world for the last 20 years that they’ve not seen each other... that is until a chance encounter in Berlin on the same night as the Wall came down. And so the pieces start to fall into place.

Also returning are Mathias Kniesbeck as Anton Simon and Michael Kausch as Ernst Simon, Herman’s stepbrothers. These are both wonderfully realized characters but especially so for Ernst to whom Reitz has given special attention. Ernst was the black sheep of the Simon clan and has been a shadowy and daring character from the beginning. As a Luftwaffe pilot during the war, he buzzed Schabbach and dropped a bouquet of flowers on the village. After the war he thrived in the black market. He has no lasting relationships or family of his own, and is an interesting study of the confirmed bachelor. He’s a dodgy character with a passion for the quick deal and expressionist paintings. He is the rebel who, unlike Hermann, never left Schabbach.

The uncredited star of Heimat 3is Günderrode House, the house high over the Rhine that Hermann and Clarissa restore as their new home. And who could have imagined that it is within walking distance of Schabbach? “Who knew it was this close?” wonders Hermann... who indeed? Like the Simon family house in Heimat and the Munich Villa in Heimat II, the restored half-timbered house is the center of life for the whole series. It is here that we meet the East German laborers Gunnar Brehme (Uwe Steimle) and Udo (Tom Quaas) who rebuild Gunderrode along with the young electronic whiz-kid Tillmann Becker (Peter Schneider) and the “East German Hippie” Tobi (Heiko Senst), the engineering genius who gets the restoration done in 7 months instead of the predicted two years. Reitz repeatedly praises the East Germans for being hard working and the last of the craftsmen. I was in Germany in 1990 and the West German locals I talked to all thought the East Germans were slackers. Maybe they knew a different group.

Reitz continues with his mixing of color and black-and-white photography but I’m not sure why he does it this time. In Heimat II, color was used effectively for the night scenes and in Heimat to (I presume) to make particular scenes more immediate. But In Heimat 3it just seems to happen. It’s nice work and a pleasure to watch but I’m just not sure of the logic behind it.

World events intrude into Heimat 3more than in the other Heimats. In Heimat II one whole episode was given over to the day Kennedy was assassinated but other than that, historical references are only mentioned in passing. Heimat 3is much more attuned to outside events which drive the characters actions. The fall of East Germany is the set-up for Clarrissa meeting Gunnar and Udo, the collapse of the Soviet Union sets up the return of the Russo-Germans, the appearance of dark international corporations sets up the fall of the Simon family business. If in Heimat Reitz showed how the little village of Schabbach resisted all the change of the 20th century, is he now showing how it will not survive in the 21st? Has the world become too connected for any one place to be too remote not to be involved? The final scene has Lulu Simon, Herman’s daughter looking in terror out a window at Gunderrode House on the morning of January 1, 2000 and she is crying. The otherwise upbeat tone of Heimat 3ends on a note as somber as any in the whole cycle.

In the accompanying extras DVD, Reitz says that if there was to be a Heimat 4it would have to begin on September 11, 2001 but he also suggests that we must wait to see what the first decade of the 21st century means before commenting on it. And so any Heimat 4 would have to be done by the next generation. And maybe someone will do it.

DVD Extras

There is an accompanying booklet with episode synopses and character analysis.

There’s also an entire DVD of additional video including Schabbach is Everywhere, a nifty doc about the actual places where the Heimats were filmed and the people who live there. This is an entertaining look behind the set at the “real” Schabbach and Hunsrück. Seeing this put me in mind of Rosyln Washington, the place where the American TV series Northern Exposure was filmed. The bemused citizens have learned to live with the tourists who come to see Cicely Alaska just as the people have in Woppenroth (one of the locals for the fictitious Schabbach). There is also a very nice interview with director Edgar Reitz. If you’ve come this far you must see this.

And then there’s the “Introduction to Heimat 3” by Marc Silberman. I’m not sure who to blame for this. This is the third introduction by Silberman and it’s so bad, you might want to see how bad it is for yourself. Isn’t there anyway this could have been done better? The content of Silberman’s discussion of Heimat 3is OK (though at times I did wonder if he saw the same series I did). But his “deer in the headlights” presentation is painful to watch... unless you are into that kind of thing.

Picture and Sound

This is the best of the three series in the Facets presentation, though there are still some video artifacts along the way that make it less than perfect.

How to Use This DVD

By this time you’ve got the rhythm and flow of the Heimats, so go with it.