In Heimat Is a Space in Time (Germany, 2019), German filmmaker Thomas Heise shares the stories of three generations of his family, in their own words.
Heise sets the tone early, reading an anti-war essay written in 1912 by his grandfather Wilhelm, when he was a schoolboy. The director uses the same matter-of-fact, uninflected tone throughout the film – as he reads letters and notes from relatives who lived through the horrors of the First World War, Nazi Germany, and then life in Communist East Germany and the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Heimat is a Space in Time defies easy description. Heise offers no context, no talking heads, no analysis. Yet this unadorned approach, coupled with the potent imagery accompanying the words, is one of the documentary’s greatest strengths. One particularly memorable sequence involves Heise’s grandparents, a “mixed” Jewish-Gentile couple living in Vienna during the Nazi era. Their letters capture the increasing measures taken against Jews: banned from buses, losing access to coal ration cards, and lastly being forced to a concentration camp in Poland. All the while, as Heise reads, lists with the names of Jews slated for deportation scroll by on the screen for nearly half an hour.
Clearly influenced by his own previous work (much of it banned in the former East Germany, where he lived until the fall of the Berlin Wall), Heimat is the culmination of Heise’s career. It is an understated epic that brilliantly marries the written word, image, and sound design. The unspoken message is that the past, even as those who remember it slip away, remains with us.