German history in the 20th century was tumultuous to the say the least and filmmaker Thomas Heise’s family experienced it all. For this epically personal documentary project, the veteran documentarian, who was born in East Berlin and saw his first three films banned by a communist government, unearths a treasure trove of photos, documents, journals and letters from his relatives and ancestors to present the intimate history of an extended family during a century full of conflict.
Split into a series of chapters, Heimat is a Space in Time chronologically charts the relationships and family dynamics of the Heise family tree through the director’s cool, disembodied narration of fragmented everyday passages from journal entries and letters. This is set over a continuing collage of sobering archival imagery, which prompt fluctuating emotions. In one chilling extended sequence, Heise reads out worried correspondence between family members in the lead up to the Holocaust while an endless list of names scheduled for deportation to the camps scrolls slowly on the screen. Elsewhere in a different period, expressions of love and lust are bandied about.
With a runtime of 218 minutes, Heise lets things flow slowly and deliberately. He also juxtaposes his narration with luminous black-and-white footage of the landscapes of today’s Germany, creating striking parallels between the environments we’re seeing and the environments we’re imagining.
I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t a challenging and often difficult film to sit through, but when has modern history not been?