English Title: Home from Home: Chronicle of a Vision
Original Title: Die andere Heimat – Chronik einer Sehnsucht
Country: Germany, France
Genre: Drama, History
Director: Edgar Reitz
Music: Michael Reissler
Cinematography: Gernot Roll
Jan Dieter Schneider
A cinematic recapitulation of his canonical Heimat (roughly can be interpreted as “homeland”) mini-series (three chronological installments encompassing a totol 30 episodes, released in 1984, 1993 and 2003 respectively), which conscientiously survey the shifting ethos of Germany from mid-19th century till the millennium through families dwelling in a fictitious Hunsrück village called Schabbach, octogenarian New German Cinema veteran Edgar Reitz’s latest edition marks his first feature film in 35 years, on top of its whopping 225-minutes running time.
HOME FROM HOME is au fond a prequel, sets its time-frame precisely from 1840 to 1844, and the cynosure here is a geeky adolescent boy Jakob Simon (Schneider), the youngest son of a blacksmith family in the village, who is not cut from the same cloth like his peers, for example his elder brother Gustav (Scheidt), and is often called on the carpet by their parochial father Johann (Kriese) for shirking day-to-day drudgery. Jakob is an avid bookworm and is weaned on the vast world purveyed by other people’s words and imagination, he begins to envisage a life beyond his homebound hardscrabble status quo (the area is constantly plagued by crop failure, harsh weather and pandemic illness), specifically, to emigrate to Brazil, for that purpose, he even masters the language of a particular tribe of South-American Indian, and often effuses about it with sheer elation, say, in front of Jettchen (Bill), the corn-fed girl he cottons to.
Little does Jakob know, what kismet lays in store for him is diametrically opposite of that ideal, the Grim Reaper sporadically assails the family either by abrupt fits or after a chronic affliction; Jettchen, who takes a jollification-addled fancy on Gustav, a hammer blow directly precipitates Jakob’s self-inflicted prison stint, ends up becoming his sister-in-law; but the last straw renders Brazil a castle in the air is the filial duty that befalls him when Gustav and Jettchen pre-empt his own pending migration, a muddy fraternal grapple turns out to be the best solution to blow off their steam.
Jakob stays, and life continues with its unchanged pace, he settles for Florinchen (Lembeck), Jettchen’s comely thick-as-thieves friend he likes but not exactly loves, his erudition finally earns the respect from Johann, who also mends fences with Lena (Fouché), his daughter, Jakob and Gustav’s sister who has been cut off from the family because she marries a man of a different religious persuasion, in the end of the day, Reitz’s time-honored sense of perspective about life, time and humanity hits the mark with distinction.
Sensibly and relentlessly, Reitz adopts a sedate rhythm to the meandering narrative and characterizes a lyrical nostalgia (enhanced by Michael Riessler’s protean score conveying emotions with high fidelity) which beautifully pervades this saga from stem to stern. The film is shot in an aesthetically mind-blowing monochrome (which anticipates Ciro Guerra’s mesmerizing EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT 2015, that could be providentially welcomed as an otherworldly answer to Jakob’s unfulfilled longing), which is ingeniously if economically interspersed with eye-catching polychromatic imagery: a golden coin, an agate keepsake, a German flag, fire blazing a horseshoe, the tail of an arcing comet, two varicolored garlands, roadside blue berries or other floral variations, all pregnant with Reitz’s divine acuity of discerning and accentuate beauty in both sweeping landscape and quotidian rigors with his reductive idiom.
Thematically, HOME FROM HOME adheres to Reitz’ humanism vision which precludes it from degrading into an eye-level pastoral, and incontrovertibly, he has been inculcated with the same humble naturalism which is in the veins of his coevals like Jan Troell and Ermanno Olmi, while anchoring this film in the signs of its time like diaspora, privation and disillusion, Reitz tops it off with a well-earned serenity to patch up with the aftermath of a dashed dream and bereavement.
Although the film is not necessarily an actor’s showpiece, and newcomer Jan Dieter Schneider’s central performance is a bit of a curate’s egg, one real trouper should be name-checked, the leading actress in the first Heimat series, Marita Breuer, understatedly returns as Margarethe, the hard-working and loving mother of the household, and feeds this estimable roman-fleuve an affecting sentiment that echoes its auteur’s own monody towards mortality and permanence.
referential entries: Ciro Guerra’s EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT (2015, 8.1/10); Ermanno Olmi’s THE TREE OF WOODEN CLOGS (1978, 7.9/10); Jan Troell’s THE EMIGRANTS (1971, 8.3/10) and THE NEW LAND (1972, 7.7/10).