Edgar Reitz completes his trilogy
A slightly different version of the Dutch original is at:
Hermann liberated himself in (Uit) Heimat, the chronicle of a village in the Hunsrück area: Die Zweite Heimat.) The VPROi presents Heimat 3, with which Edgar Reitz crowns his life’s work. We say farewell to Schabbach and the Hunsrück; de quest for a new Heimat can begin.,
by Maarten van Bracht
Edgar Reitz, 72, has weathered the Dutch premiere of Heimat 3 and the consequent obligations well. Stately, with a watchful gaze and ever concentrating, he takes time to anwer even the umpteenth question extensively in the Goethe Institute in Amsterdam. It is clear that an altmeister is speaking, a film maker and teacher with a penchant for cultural philosophy. With him private opinions hide behind general formulations. The introductory question, whether he regrets having to speak English in the Netherlands more and more elicits a small lecture from him: “ How should Europeans communicate with each other? We need a communal language, an extra language. But whatever politicians agree, the case for English has already been won, although it is not in fact a European language but a world language. It is the language of a former colonial world power. So, if we speak English in Europe that tells us nothing about where the boundaries of Europe lie; therefore that knowledge is in the process of getting lost. But ok, one cannot do anything about it. One has to remain practical. Long ago Latin was the European lingua franca, even though there were few literate people. Erasmus could make himself understood everywhere in Europe with Latin.
Heimat 3 begins. Hermann and Clarissa have not seen each other for 17 years, but things proceed very quickly: they make up for lost time, they talk and sleep with each other. They leave the same night for Hunsrück, to look for a traditional timbered house that has taken Clarissa’s fancy. Did you try to take the viewer by surprise so you could start with the story straightaway?
Reitz: “if you watch carefully, you will note that there are fires burning everywhere when they arrive in the Hunsrück, because it is St Martin’s day, the 11th of November. But they met on the 9th of November, the day that saw the fall of the Wall. So one can ask oneself what those two did on the 10th. Well, I devoted about an hour to that 10th of November, but that material is not used in the film. In it Reinhold, Hermanns’ assistant, searches for them the whole night through and tells the lovers about what has been happening. By then Reinhold has already organised a spontaneous concert with musicians from Eastern and Western Germany. On the program is Beethovens 9th, with Hermann as director and Clarissa as soprano. They spend the whole day rehearsing and getting to know each other better. At night the concert is attended by an overjoyed Willy Brandt, who sees his political work crowned with the “fall of the Wall”. After the concert Hermann and Clarissa find themselves nearer to each other, and they decide to share their lives. If I had used all this material, then the two would not have arrived in the Hunsrück before the end of part 1. And I was allowed no more than 6 parts. Hence the lightning start, in the hope that the stormy historic events would be mirrored in Hermann’s and Clarissa’s behaviour. By the way, I am already working on a film in which the unused material is used. Heimat 3 took a long time becoming what it became. I worked on the film for 7 years, with many discussions about possible sub plots land alternatives.”
In Heitmat 3 one can find a good deal of German mythology. The Gunderode Haus is a reference to a romantic lady-poet who commited suicide. The Lorelei motive is a metaphor for temptation and foreboding, the Nibelungen treasure that has allegedly disappeared into the Rhine. Is it necessary to know about these, or is it comprehensible without that knowledge?
“A little prior knowledge does not do any harm, but is not a precondition. I cannot assume too much knowledge from even the German public. Bavaria, for example, is much further away from the Rhine Valley than the Netherlands. The Rhine flows through both Germany and the Netherlands. Through that river both nations have always been in contact with each other, and one can find myths and fairytales about it in both peoples. It does not matter if one does not quite know what that Nibelungen treasure was all about. Hopefully the viewer will understand that it is an extraordinary and gripping story even without it,.”
The Gunderrode house is being built by builders from East Germany. Why are they being paid illegally?
“Ha, that is something there should be no misunderstanding about. According to West German Law people from Eastern Germany are German subjects with an equal right to work and a work permit if they came to the West. But even in 1990 the Law did not dictate that East Germans should also pay contributions. So they were not obliged to pay tax – and that lasted for a year. This way they could make a pretty penny. So it was not illegal, but merely not forbidden.”
Whence your preference for dialects?
Germany remained a patchwork of kingdoms for long, so not a united nation. Bavaria which is an enormous area, was a Kingdom until late in the 19th century. Millions of people speak Bavarian; it is natural and has something to do with their identity. It is the national language and is spoken in all layers of the population. In the same vein Goethe spoke Hessian, Schiller spoke Swabian
and Luther Saxon. It still does not go without saying that one feels German; Germans have trouble with their nation. The Nazi’s tried to make it into 1 nation and we all know how that ended. Also there is a difference in mentality between inhabitants of Hamburg and Munchen. That is why dialects offer salvation, a way out. By speaking a dialect one makes clear: I may be German, but I do not represent the German nation but merely a certain German tribe. This may help a better understanding of the German mentality.”
The Easterners behaved initially as kids in a sweetie shop, quite over the top. Would you have dared portray them in such a way had you not had the help of the East German co-writer Thomas Brussig?
“I would have handled it more cautiously. But Thomas said: ‘this is right. this is how we East Germans see ourselves.’ And he is right, because the public was always enthusiastic at all the premieres in East Germany. People said: ‘This is us, that is how we were, and this is how we are’. Of course there is an element of naivity, of course that is being managed, but it has also improved recognition so one can start to laugh at oneself again. Strangely enough I am only being criticised about this in the West. The West Germans worry that it means being politically incorrect towards the East Germans, that they are being perceived as second rate civilians. People who think “insulting the East Germans but not the West Germans” are wrong. Only Thomas Brussig knew exactly where he could apply exaggeration and satire. He has the “double vision” necessary for irony: seeing the superficial exterior as well as the hidden interior.”
In part 4 “Allen geht’s gut” prosperity brings greed, vanity, paranoia, unfaithfulness and loss of tradition with it. It seems you take pleasure in handing out mishap and unhappiness.
“Well, I merely describe them. It is difficult to say something about this; it is painful. When I observe and describe things like these, it hurts, but at the same time it is comical. Take for example that scene at the cemetery. While waiting for the car transporting the urn, the people present want to be seen to be modern. They give advice on business matters, hints for the stock market, banter about photographic technology, holidays. They have had the undertakers make a hydraulic construction to give it all a feeling of stateliness. For they do want a ritual, even though they do not believe in anything anymore. And then the mechanism fails; it is sad and nobody can help laughing. That is the feeling I kept having, tragic and comical at the same time. And astonishment about how stupidly man can behave.”
For Hermann and Clarissa happiness, homeliness and creativity do not go together. They need unrest, unhappiness and physical distance for that. Is it unavoidable that creative people suffer more than normal ones? (laughing) “There is that Latin proverb’ Plenum venter non studet libenter’: you do not study well on a full stomach. Someone who is full, has stopped thinking well. In Asian cultures it is thought that fasting, suffering hunger, is necessary to obtain mental clarity. Ancient wisdom. Nowadays we think is is our duty to achieve progress on every human terrain, and to strive for more happiness. That is the credo, the ultimate purpose of society today: we have to be happy. We produce happiness in any possible way, but mainly by consuming. If one feels unhappy despite this, there is always therapy or psycho analysis. However, the question what makes us mentally fit and creative has not yet been answered this way. I prefer a form of happiness – not the banal kind of the consumer, happy with material possessions – in which one remains creative. Now, you build a house in a lovely spot, you go and live there with a woman you love, in the expection that you will have to be happy. However, I do not think that Hermann will rediscover his creative power because of being unhappy, but because he is liberated from this incorrect, this wrong kind of, happiness that consists of superficial matters. So I do not think that happiness and creativity are mutually exclusive, provided that the happiness is real because of a spiritual dimension.”
Hermann remains an observer. Why did you make him, your alter ego too after all, so passive?
“Hermann was the person with ideals. He, as the central figure in Die Zweite Heimat, ran away from his village. He, unllike his brothers, went to find a richer, more fulfilling, life somewhere else. When back in Hunsrück he accidentally stumbles on his family, but he thinks he can keep his distance. Then he finds out that his brothers are better able to cope with life, have stronger characters than he does. They have an “anchor point”, they have answered certain questions for themselves. But Hermann is in fact at a loss – and that applies to all current intellectuals, they are at a loss in a special way. The problem is that they have long thought that they followed the just, the better way. With hindsight that is clearly not the case, but they cannot turn back and make their way again, despite all their experience, knowledge and ideals. This makes them speechless. Hermann increasingly lacks language, text. Compared with the others his character becomes steadily less outspoken, more a rather pale character, (smiles) finally he is almost like anybody else. I struggled with that, because I was not sure anymore how I had to place Hermann over against the others.
I am not happy that he, the artist, has become a “discontinued model”. I am of the opinion that artists need a different form of self consciousness, that they have to think freely and aggressively, that they have to influence society. What remains is that Hermann and Clarissa have survived her illness, that the family is together, with children and grandchildren. They see that life goes on, that they no longer have to look for answers; it is the younger generation’s turn now. Over and out. But I noticed with both Heimat and Die Zweite Heimat that one cannot truly finish the story, because at the end all questions can be asked all over again. Indeed it has been suggested I continue the story. I cannot rule that out.
At the Millenium party all “players” come together once more, but a happy end is impossible. Gunnar is still in jail and the viewer would want poor Lulu to have more than her gloomy outlook. What remains is resignation, a little art and family ties.:
“But the question is, what do you want her to have? On the morning of New Year’s day, during the walk in Frankfurt, she says to her friends that she has no money, job connections or relationship. Of course I would want her to have all that because these are all elementary needs, not luxuries. Lulu worked passionately as an architect on her Uncle Ernst’s museum. Nowadays millions are unable to find employment in their own field of expertise, and this sociological problem ought to be solved because it makes many desperately unhappy. Lulu befriended the designer of the museum, but chose not to have a relationship. She represents the many people who view the new Millennium with doom and gloom; they feel insecure, unsafe and threatened, also physically, but they do not know the enemy, it remains vague. One seeks protection without knowing against whom or what. This insecurity is the worst aspect. But Lulu has a musically gifted child, Lukas, who embodies hope. He is a “Hoffnungsträger” (bearer of hope). I cannot offer my public more at this moment in time, I have no answers. That is not possible. I do hope people will start to think about how to fill this vaccuum, this emptiness in our consciousness.”
i VPRO = Verenigde Protestantse Radio Omroep. It is one of the (non-commercial) Broadcasting corporations in the Netherlands, and is known for broadcasting “quality” tv and radio.