20 years ago today, the Berlin Wall was falling down and this historical date is rightly celebrated everywhere in the world. Zazie would like to give her small contribution in the only way she knows: talking about cinema.
One of the most amazing experiences of my entire life, has been the vision of a German movie called HEIMAT (an apparently untranslatable word that somehow means "Homeland") by Edgar Reitz. To define Heimat a simple movie is very, very reductive. Heimat is an epic, and a very long one. We are talking about 52 hours of filming material divided in 30 episodes, split up in 3 parts: Heimat 1 (11 episodes), Heimat 2 (13 episodes) and Heimat 3 (6 episodes).
Heimat is the story of a German family, the Simons, from 1919 until 2000, but it is also the story of a country. I've been lucky enough to see Heimat 1 - A German Chronicle on the Italian TV around 1985/1986 and I loved it. I was captured after 10 minutes by the adventures of the Simons in this remote little village called Schabbach (in the Hunsruck area of the Rhineland).
The first Heimat follows them from 1919 until 1982, and it's easy to understand how many stories can be told based upon such a rich historical period: the end of the First World War, the Second one, the years of the Nazism, the post war period, the economic boom, the heaviness of the '70s etc. etc.
The second part, well, that was one of the highlights of my youth. I still have to understand why, but in Italy someone (up above that loves us) decided to distribute the movie in cinemas and in Original Language!!! (a mystery that will probably never been solved in a country where, even until today, every single movie is dub). I was living in Milan, at that time (1992), and the cinema showing Heimat 2 used to screen, every week, a new episode. I remember that they had created a lovely special card for the movie and every time I went to see a film they obliterated a piece of the card, filling me with joy (yes, I know, I'm a bit crazy). I also perfectly remember how much I was crying when I got off the cinema after having seen the last episode. It was a summer day and I was desperate, walking in the empty streets of Milan and looking for a reason to live without the Simons (at that time, I didn't know that Reitz was preparing the third part of the saga).
The only other fictional family that had such a big impact on me was the Fisher family of Six Feet Under, but this has been just few years ago. The Simons were the forerunners! Anyway, Heimat 2 - Chronicle of a Youth is the story of the youngest Simon, Hermann, who leaves Schabbach to move to Munich in the '60s to study musical composition. Arriving in this city, he meets new friends, he falls in love with the cellist Clarissa (and he tries to forget his first love, Klarchen, a Schabbach woman), he takes part in the new artistic movements, he discovers a new way of living and of being.
We are talking here about a real masterpiece. Not all the episodes are perfect, but most of them are. Every single character is beautifully created and defined, the dialogues are intense, as well as the flow of emotions that overwhelm the screen and the audience. About the way all this has been filmed, Reitz uses a simple but powerful idea: the day scenes are filmed in black and white, while the night scenes are filmed in colours. I can't explain you better, but this basic solution is to die for. The amazing thing about Heimat is this: the story is probably the most "German" story possible, but it is incredibly universal. In Heimat 2, for instance, there is an episode called "Kennedy's Children", that shows what happened to every character of the movie the day Kennedy was killed. Once got home, after seeing that episode, I asked my parents if they remember what they did in that particular day and they both answered Yes, we do. Every single person of our generation remembers it. You see, Reitz is maybe talking about some Munich guys but he's talking about the world.
And I'll never forget one scene, where one of Hermann's friends has been to see "La Notte" by Antonioni and says, with dreamy eyes: you watch a film like that and you want to kill yourself (La Notte is my favourite Italian movie of all time). Not to mention the poster of Jules et Jim in one of their rooms...
Heimat 3 - Chronicle of a Changing Time begins exactly with the fall of the Berlin Wall: it is in that same night that Hermann and Clarissa met each other again, after having lived apart for many years. Heimat 3 was out in 2004 and the momentary cleverness of the Italian distributors was over. I was living in Genoa, at that time, and after a couple of episodes, they decided that the experiment wasn't worth it (probably the fact that we were 5 in the cinema for the first two episodes didn't help). Sadly enough, I've never seen the rest of Heimat 3 even because, I have to confess it, it was not as good as the first two sagas.
I really hope that somebody reading this post will feel the urge to re-discover this movie and I also take advantage of this public space to ask for forgiveness to all my German friends to whom, invariably, my first question is: Have you seen Heimat? followed by my incredulous-almost-disgusted look if they venture to answer No.
I read somewhere that Heimat was one of Stanley Kubrick's favourite films. Well, if you don't trust Zazie... please trust good old Stanley, guys!