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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Cinquante-deux heures d’une trilogie

by Interview with German filmmaker Edgar Reitz, by Jean Roy

Film: 52 Hour Trilogy with Release of Heimat 3

Translated by Ann Drummond

Translated Monday 3 April 2006, by Ann Drummond

Film: Heimat 3 now released in cinemas, and the trilogy is out on DVD. Edgar Reitz’s work extends over 80 years, depicting hundreds of characters.
If anyone ever goes down in posterity for being a one-film man, even if he has directed others, it has to be Edgar Reitz, who has devoted himself to a unique project for the past 20 years: Heimat. [1] An interminable work, whose narrative unfolds over an 80 year period, brings to life several hundred characters and asks the viewer for a commitment of fifty two hours and ten minutes. Huma meets the director.

HUMA: What is the origin of Heimat?

EDGAR REITZ[ER]: By 1979, I had made seven feature films and five documentaries in the course of my career. My last film, The Tailor of Ulm was a serious flop, which caused me to go through a deep professional crisis. It was a historical costume drama which was very expensive to make. I withdrew to an island. There was such a snowstorm that I found myself cut off for three months. I went through a period of self-reflection, asking myself how a boy from a rural family could have become a film director. So I wrote the story of a family, throwing myself into a frenzy of writing for three months. I found myself with a huge manuscript which I turned into a screenplay of 1,500 pages. I showed the screenplay to several people who all had different opinions about the way it should be filmed. I started from the idea of a work which would take two years, then six years, then nine years. This is how it all kicked off.

By a stroke of luck, I found the funding from a regional TV company in Germany. But after two years, the money had run out and I had only completed half of the screenplay. This caused a terrible scandal, as I was forced to put them on the spot: either you lose everything or inject more cash! But in the meantime, after four years’ work, Heimat 1 had been released. The 1,500 pages had been converted to the screen in two years of shooting and two years of editing. And, at the same time, I was writing Heimat 2.

HUMA: Why did you do this sequel?

ER: In Heimat 1, my story all takes place within the village, with the result that I could not follow the characters who leave it. In Heimat 2, I follow the characters who leave the village and in Heimat 3, they return to the village but everything has changed and the past cannot be recaptured. I got the idea for Heimat 3 while I was filming Heimat 2. We were in Berlin filming the episode which takes place there, the story of the young filmmakers and the making a film, and the Wall fell. It was an incredible event. We stopped filming and went to the Brandenburg Gate. It was there that I had the idea of Heimat 3, which I wrote after completing the filming of Heimat 2.

HUMA: Now, after the projection of 52 hours of film, everything has been said, for from the beginning in 1919, we have now reached the present day..

ER: I have made a short, two-and a half hour film as an epilogue, which begins with Loulou, the young woman who is crying at the window. For me, it is more or less the chance to say goodbye to all the characters in Heimat, a lap of honour. The title might be "Goodbyes to Heimat" but that’s not definite, as the film is still in editing.

HUMA: How have people been able to see this saga?

ER: Heimat 1 was in cinemas for a year, and then on television. It was the greatest success in German TV history. Heimat 2 was also shown in cinemas, but with a running time of 26 hours, it is twice as long as the first one. So it was shown in the largest opera theatres, firstly in Munich, where it was really successful, then in Hamburg, Cologne, Berlin and Frankfurt, and then of course, on television. It was most successful in Italy, where it was shown on one single day in the cinema. Heimat 2 was shown over two weekends, based on 8 hours per day - six episodes on Saturday and seven on Sunday. After the premiere at the Venice Film Festival in 2004, Heimat 3 had its German premiere at the Munich Opera House, then ran for three months in other cinemas, and finally on TV at the end of 2004.

HUMA: Has there been any precedent or point of reference for this undertaking?

ER: Not in cinema, but in literature in the works of Thomas Mann, Marcel Proust and Balzac. Literature is full of great novels like War and Peace by Tolstoy. In Baroque literature, you already find this kind of writing, such as Simplicius Simplicissimus by Grimmelshausen.

HUMA: Which part of it is autobiographical?

ER: Both all of it and none, at the same time - all autobiography and all made up. It always starts off with recollections which come back as memories and then it develops from there.

HUMA: How did your colleagues react to it, who, like you, combine reality and fiction?

ER: After Heimat 2, a lot of these friends came to see me to tell me that they too could have made this film, but didn’t. It is not always easy to communicate with people.

HUMA: Anything else to add?

ER: What really surprised me when I came to France was the love people feel towards the cinematographic art, and the extent to which they know how to appreciate it. It’s the only country where they have spoken to me about my tracking shots or lighting, hence the reason I came here, for that is what the work of a filmmaker is about. That is most probably due to the fact that France is the country where cinema is rooted in the culture...

Interview conducted by Jean Roy.

Translator’s Note: The title "Heimat" has been retained for other language releases of the films, due to the difficulty of capturing the full sense of this German term. It combines, among other things, notions of "home/country/homeland" with "where you feel you belong" (often associated with childhood) and "where friends and/or family are". There is also an ironic touch, with the reference to the undemanding film genre of the 1950s "Heimatfilme", rather kitschy tales, pastoral idylls often set in mountain locations.

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