From: "Ivan Mansley" <ivanman dsl.pipex.com>
Sent: Friday, June 25, 2004 11:51 AM +0100
DIE ZWEITE HEIMAT. PART 6: KENNEDY'S CHILDREN, Alex 1963.
I was very struck by the haunting images of the lowering winter skies, the dark clouds fringed with dying sunlight, the flocks of crows roosting in the bare branches of the trees, and the plaintive and melodic voice singing and articulating the Nietzsche text with which the episode opens. The words
resonate with meaning for our human protagonists as well as being descriptive. My mind keeps returning to these opening images again and again.
All viewers are quickly made aware that all the events are supposed to take place on the day of President John F. Kennedy's assassination, November 22nd 1963. Everyone alive at the time is supposed to remember where they were when the news was announced. I do, vividly. I was playing bar billiards in a N.London pub when a seated drinker with a radio ordered quiet and we all listened with a great sense of foreboding and anxiety. Juan, Hermann and Schnusschen were watching Elizabeth Taylor in Joseph Mankiewicz' "Cleopatra". Once again we have a scene set inside a cinema where we watch the reactions of the audience to what they are seeing. I wonder how many there are in all in the two Heimats!! As a comparison I might cite James Joyce's "Ulysses" where the events all take place in Dublin on one day in June 1904, now known after the main protagonist as "Bloomsday".
The crows are associated with Alex, the perpetual student. One bedraggled bird is seen shaking itself outside his window as he sleeps until noon. An idea quickly established itself in my mind. The town crow is a scavenger and so is Alex. He is completely shameless and spends the whole day approaching his student friends trying to borrow money. Ironically, one of the people he approaches is Clarissa, who is also trying to borrow money for an abortion, having become pregnant by either Volker or Jean-Marie. A later scene shows Alex rummaging through dustbins to find bottles to redeem to get a little money to continue to pester others. The previous image has been of rats around the same dustbins scavenging for food. The link is unmistakable.
It seems to me that the link which unites all the disparate elements of this evenly paced episode is the theme of friendship and the examination of this concept. Alex's father's portrait speaks to him and tells him that a friend is someone who lends you money. Alex pursues this mercenary concept begging in turn from Hermann, Clarissa, Jean-Marie, Stefan, Reinhard, Rob, and finally Olga, who guesses what he has come for, and rejects with great vehemence his ideas and his group of friends, after his remark that "You are not wrong, comrade." She hates the use of such, to her, phony left-wing language. All these efforts of Alex's are totally unsuccessful. His luck turns when he decides he has enough money, after redeeming more bottles, to call 6 "friends" to invest in his future. He finds a wallet with 150 DM in it inside the telephone booth. Alex is an exasperating figure. We know his definition of friendship is wrong and his continual scrounging is morally indefensible. But there is more to him than just this. He is extremely intelligent and well-read; better read, says Hermann, than his professors. He is also self-aware. He understands himself. When Olga rounds on him and the whole group of "arrogant geniuses" as she calls Jean-Marie, Volker and Hermann, he retorts, "Nice that you acknowledge his genius, I'd even call that friendship." Note the last word.
After finding the wallet Alex does try to call the old man who might have left it and return the money. However, he then goes down in my estimation as a moral character when he spins a lying tale to Stefan of how a complete stranger gave him the money for a piece of translation from the Russian. He shows his quick wits, quoting his father's words as if they were Pushkin's and making up an almost plausible story. Alex is given the last words, as all the students and their associates are gathered together in the warmth of the Cerphal villa sharing food, "And all us friends were together after one year." As Wittgenstein puts it "the totality of facts" makes him understand that his definition was limited and wrong.
What of other friendships? Clarissa and Hermann continue their tortured way. Someone with more sensitivity than Hermann perhaps would have realised what she wanted the 800DM for and put out the hand of friendship and understanding. Instead, his anger and frustration get the better of him, and this is mirrored in the images of empty cold stone in the Conservatoire with its deserted corridors and hard marble balustrades. They fence with each other. They are both desperate. Hermann: "I wrote the piece for you, only for you." Clarissa: "You're my only friend." After Clarissa's abortion recriminations start to break out between Volker and Jean-Marie but Jean-Marie is decisive. He will not go into details about his sexual relations with Clarissa and states "I want us to stay friends. Stop brooding." Schnusschen, now Waltraud, finds an old friend. Renate finds her Bernd, and last, but not least, our 3 film directors are reunited over a pot of goulash. Reinhard and Stefan had quarrelled bitterly but a spoon of peace is offered and accepted.
The character who refuses friendship and feels so bitter and anguished about her rejection by Hermann and her lack of recognition as a poet is Helga. She stage manages her suicide in a very calculated way. Alex finds her lying on the bed in her apartment where he has gone to break the news of Kennedy's death to her. She has marked her face with black lines [signifying?] and is wearing what looks like the same black underwear in which she tried to seduce Hermann. One nipple is discreetly showing. Candles flicker and gutter. The scene is like some weird shrine. Stefan, who has followed on after Alex, saves her life by forcing her to vomit. Alex does his ineffectual bit. Later she rejects the man who has saved her life, talking about her suicide attempt in flippant and mocking tones and accusing Stefan of only helping her, "So you can say you've done your duty. You can't claim you love me." She has no words of gratitude at all.
I would just like to say a little about the scenes connected with Clarissa's abortion. She sends for Volker and Jean-Marie to announce that she is pregnant and either could be the father, but that she does not want to have the child, and, most shatteringly, that she does not love either of them. There is considerable comedy in the scene which surprised me. Jean-Marie and Volker are shown arriving together. Both are carrying flowers; roses, to be precise. Both are carrying black umbrellas and are wearing dark overcoats and black shoes. Edgar Reitz has fun making them like Tweedledum and Tweedledee in this scene. Both raise their flowers in unison, place their umbrellas side by side, crumple the wrapping paper of the flowers together and place on the floor by the umbrellas to catch raindrops perhaps. At one point both are on their hands and knees together! It is all very carefully choreographed. Volker, in particular, is hurt by her announcement and asks, "Aren't you afraid of losing us as friends?" This has special resonance with the overall theme.
As Clarissa departs for Rosenheim for her abortion she just misses meeting Hermann at the station. Fate intervenes and her train pulls out! The scene where she walks through the foggy streets to the doctor's basement surgery is powerfully done. She is alone and without friends. The details are awful; the stirrup chair stands menacingly. The coughing doctor holds up two dreadful metallic instruments and tells her to relax. We are not spared many details and her pain and terror and isolation are wonderfully acted. It is noticeable that at the end, around the happy table of friends in the Cerphal villa, Clarissa is absent. She has had the fortitude to do what she feels she has to. Later, after her return, we see how Volker is hurt and how he sees the truth about Clarissa and Hermann. "She was playing with us." In their desire to remain friends we can think back to Hermann and Juan.
What else should be mentioned? We have the incessant rain. Edgar Reitz favourite weather!! I noticed colour being used on occasions that do not correspond with the convenient fiction of b/w [day] and colour [night]. For instance, when Alex has failed to borrow from Jean-Marie who is withdrawing money from the bank for Clarissa, he stands in the rain-swept street and sees arrays of food in a delicatessen in colour. It emphasises the attractiveness of the food to our hungry philosopher. Have you noticed how often Reitz's camera focuses on the preparation and cooking of food. Here we have Olga's fried eggs and the ingredients for Reinhard's goulash laid out on a board. I noticed Clemans on drums in the film making scene. Finally, I must mention that the felling of the cherry tree, which crashes through the window of the practice room in Fraulein Cerphal's villa, must surely be symbolic that the old order is changing. Elisabeth Cerphal is thinking of selling up. This is how Chekhov uses the felling of such trees in "The Cherry Orchard", a play which I am sure Edgar Reitz knows. Thus, the new-found amity at the end of the episode, their new and self-chosen "Heimat", rests on fragile foundations, as does all human life perhaps.
Please watch this tightly structured episode and comment if you have the time and inclination.