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Thomas Heises Heimat is a Space in Time # made a deep impression during last year's film festival in Berlin. The main prize from the renowned international film festival Visions of the Real in Nyon in Switzerland confirms that the film is an exceptionally intense example of documentary art where the impact is created with relatively simple aesthetic tools and slow build-up. The camera mostly glides over insignificant places: desolate mountain scenery, ruins, untamed forests, train and underground stations and areas that are in the process of being transformed or about to be abandoned. The volatile mood of the images is further enhanced by the accomplished black and white aesthetics. We also get to see pictures from family archives and, strangely enough, a longer dialogue between the filmmaker's father, the philosopher Wolfgang Heise, and the playwright Heiner Müller.

Cross-letter exchanges

The film is dominated by a narrative voice that quotes from the letters of four family generations. We are drawn into the suffering, loss and grief of people who try to maintain a dignity in times of political powerlessness, corruption, surveillance and oppression. Hereby Heise documents the history of Germany from 1912 to the present day, where human life, doubt and resistance are at the center. Sequences of silence between the letter quotes create voids – openings in a border country where both identity and sense of direction are in danger of being lost.

Already the first letter can be read as a summary of Germany's historical destiny and schizophrenia to this day. In 1912 wrote Wilhelm Heise, Thomas' grandfather, a school style against war, in which he describes war as an exclusive and endless human slaughter that only the ruling class can benefit from. In 1914, he notes the prophetic idea that "a nation will never forget the defeats and wounds inflicted on it by the enemy, and thus hatred will always find a brutal outlet for its anger in a new, bloody war." This essay reflects people's strategically organized superstition and the willingness to sacrifice knowledge and enlightenment. War erases all virtues. But after this clear-sighted party, the arguments change, and we hear a resolute will to defend the homeland, "Germany," whenever it may be attacked. With this, everyone in Germany will become "true whole blood patriots" again.

Don't look here

The next quotes are from Wilhelm Heise's first love letter to his future wife, Edith. Her Jewish parents had settled in Vienna, and the ever-increasing frequency of correspondence in the days before they were deported underscores the powerlessness of people in the face of brutal forms of oppression. The attempts to find positive attitudes and glimpses of joy even in the deepest calamity, where all the cornerstones of existence gradually fade away, testify to man's inherent need for hope. In this narrative sequence, image use is limited to a long list of all deportees until the names of Heise's family members emerge. Then silence.

Occasionally, the words of a popular song, "Don't Look Here, Don't Look There, Just Look Right Ahead, And Whatever May Come, Just Never Mind," convey the feeling of losing the existential footing and direction of life. In West Germany, the "Zero Hour" myth led to a rapid rebuild of material and economic prosperity that history had hardly seen. In East Germany, on the other hand, it did not take long for the state ideology, with its promises of equality and justice, to be transformed into a self-validating apparatus of power. Those who believed in a socialist society lost hope. Elevator illustrates this with images of endless freight trains and fenced, abandoned areas.

A failure to recognize historical damage only leads to the awakening of old monsters
to live again.

The next chapter shows how Wolfgang Heise gradually lost his position due to institutional intrigue and clashes. Author Christa Wolf recalls his meeting with Heise when, after coming up with a sharp political analysis of the corrupt state power, he was asked what to do, declaring: "Decent bleiben" ("preserve decency"). Political condemnations, such as the expulsion of Wolf Biermann, are illustrated by images of a collapsed bridge.

In the chapter that follows, Thomas Heise begins to refer to himself and his military service, but also to the ever-increasing surveillance of his parents, who are being monitored wherever they go and in everything they do. The following chapter addresses the internal conflicts of intellectuals living in "real socialism" in a GDR, which is tragically defined by "the distinction between knowledge and power" and "the clinch between revolution and counter-revolution" (Heiner Müller), which already exists. pointed out by Bertolt Brecht. In her diary, Heise's mother Rosie describes, among other things, Heiner Müller's inner split: "He is like someone fascinated by observing a man growing up who is none other than himself." The painful intellectual challenge, as she points out, is finally to could admit to themselves how the state and Stasi had become, after the first hopeful days of the Cold War, even though they had long refused to admit it.

Heimat is a Space in Time Director Thomas Heise
Heimat is a Space in Time
Director Thomas Heise

To bring the monsters to life

Despite the disappointments, the Western way of life never seemed a convincing alternative. In a 1991 letter to Rosie, Christa Wolf complains that the leaders of "Pax Americana ... want to organize things in such a way that our beloved planet is going to collapse with them". Thomas Heises Neustadt. Perennials Stand for things (2000) document the degrading living conditions and the ideological radicalization of the "no future" youth – the new victims of capitalist occupation after Germany was reunited in a time of despair, decline and weakened self-esteem. "Being German" once again began to fill the void of historical consciousness in a most disturbing way. When the country's history of oppression is swept under the rug, and the population feels cowed by a sense of collective guilt, the marginalized are left with their scars and cry out for new wounds.

The marginalized are left with their scars and cry out for new wounds.

One has never been released from the past and the charges of the oppressors, and the demands for redress have never been realized; instead, the forces have been used to attack the very weakest of society: asylum seekers and poor foreigners, the poor against the poor. Not a single shark is stopped, no matter what country they come from. The reaction to the economic war against the right to housing has become a war against the homeless.

Heimat is a Space in Time ends with reflections on Heise's dying mother, a passing that marks the end of a century of painful memories. Heise's documentary is a key piece of work to understand how a failure to recognize historical damage only leads to the resurrection of old monsters, as Grandpa already pointed out in his 1912 school style.

Translated by Sigrid Strømmen

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