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HEIMAT

West Germany, 1984 (MIFF 1985)

Director: Edgar Reitz

Edgar Reitz' Heimat is more than just the longest film ever made, more even than the apex of the New German Cinema: It is a true landmark in the history of world cinema. At over 15 hours, Heimat covers two-thirds of a century of earth-shaking events as seen from the point of view of a few square miles of precious "homeland". It is the story of a many-branched family in two small villages in Hunsruck, Germany, from 1919 to 1982. Its powerful central figure is Maria, charmingly played by Marita Breuer, who ages along with the century.

Overwhelming events - Germany's post World War I depression, the rise of Hitler, World War II and its aftermath - serve as backdrop and impulse for the actions of its many and richly depicted characters.

Superbly crafted the film is not a literary adaptation, nor is it a serialized story, but a comprehensive look at changing times and values. The cinematography is beautiful and encompasses evocative shifts from black and white to color, from newsreei fidelity to sensitive and intimate scenes. Heimat has gained the admiration of critics and the public around the world and had proved remarkably popular with those audiences fortunate enough to see it as it was intended. A theatrical feature film, shown in eleven parts, which are summarized below:

1. The Call of Far Away Places (1919-1928) Maria, Mayor Wiegand's daughter is in love with Paul, who is suffering from a broken romance. He is a "loner," more concerned with his inventions and his radio than family life, but he does marry Maria, and they have two sons, Anton and Ernst. One day, as Paul is standing in the door of his father's blacksmith shed, he announces that he is going off for a quick beer and is never seen again. After a vain search, Maria and her family give up hope and settle into a routine, if slightly unsettled life.

2. The Center of the World (1928-1933) In Berlin, Eduard, Maria's brother, meets and marries Lucie, the young madam of a brothel. Lucie, one of the more zanily compelling of Heimat's characters, realises that she will never be rich and famous, but sets about adjusting to life in a country village and scheming to advance her husband's career. Hitler is on the rise, and a vague unease strikes the family when a relative is arrested for communist and labor sympathies.

3. The Best Christmas Ever (1935) Lucie and Eduard have built a magnificent house. Eduard, a Nazi party member, becomes (a slightly unenthusiastic) mayor. Maria's brother Wilfried is a doctrinaire SS member who plans a trip by high party officials to Hunsruck, and enlists Lucie to entertain them at her new home. She is wild with joy, and prepares a great feast.

4. The Highway (1938) Six thousand men arrive in Hunsruck to build a major highway between Cobientz and Trier. The chief engineer is quartered with Maria's family, and as she gets to know him she realizes just how lonely she has been for many years. Otto and Maria fall in love, and the big, sentimental engineer establishes a fatherly relationship with Anton and Ernst.

5. Up and Away and Back (1938-1939) For the moment, members of all the families are happy and prosperous. It looks as if everything will turn out well for everyone. Then a letter arrives from America. It is from the missing Paul, who has become a wealthy manufacturer. He wants to rejoin his family and his belated return means the end of Maria's relationship with Otto. Paul's anticipated return is interrupted by the outbreak of the war in Poland.

6. The Home Front (1943) The only men left in the countryside are the aged and disabled. Prisoners till the fields along with the women. Wilfried, officious as ever, is the commandant of the work units. His pompous and insensitive attitude prompts Katharina to snub him saying that the only troops he commands are overworked women and underfed prisoners. Maria has a four-year-old son, Hermann from Otto.

7. Soldiers and Love (1944) The country is in despair. Everyone knows that defeat is near, and the future is unreadable. Otto arranges to visit Maria and they spend a wonderful night reminiscing about the past, hardly daring to hope for the future. Even the quiet villages have been bombed and the loss of life is staggering. The Americans march in. Lucie is ready for them with American flags flying from her windows.

8. The Americans (1945-1947) The Americans bring with them chewing gum, coffee, chocolate, silk stockings. Hunsruck begins to revive under this seemingly endless wealth. In the summer of 1946, a limousine stops in the village. The man inside is Paul and the whole village is excited over the news, for Paul now is enormously rich and he arranged a huge celebration party for everyone - complete with presents, drinks, and an American military band.

9. Little Hermann (1955-1956) The German "business miracle" has changed village life totally. Anton and Ernst have become successful businessman - albeit by very different routes. Anton develops optical works and Ernst has invested his profits from the black market. Maria dedicates herself to Hermann, who is her true hope for the future.

10. The Proud Years (1967-1969) Anton's success is so great that he is offered millions for his company. He decides, however, to continue to run the factory and keep its employees. Paul is at a radio station in Baden-Baden and Maria discovers that he has made it possible for Hermann to become a composer using electronic instruments.

11. The Feast of the Living and the Dead (1982) Maria dies at age 82 and Hermann immediately sets forth for Hunsruck. The funeral gathers together all the scattered members of the family. After the burial, the mourners take stock of their lives and reflect that "her entire life consisted of everyone leaving her and now that she's left us, everyone's come."

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