To cite just one example: On an evening in 1924, a German-American flyer sets his small plane down in a field near Schabbach. The following day, as he prepares to continue his journey, he invites Paul (the returning warrior) up for a brief spin, and there's an almost metaphysical thrill to the moment: thanks to the new technological wonder of the aeroplane, Paul is about to see his village as no native ever has, and Schabbach is about to be placed in relation to the rest of the universe as it has never been placed before. They take off, and almost immediately, just when we expect a transcendent Big Moment, Paul's attention is diverted from the panorama by the sight of a dark woman wheeling a baby carriage along a country road. He thinks he knows who it is--someone who has caught his imagination and led him to dream of an alternative destiny for himself. Down!, he urges the pilot. Yet returned to home ground, running after the woman as the plane takes off again in the background to disappear forever, he discovers it's not the woman he thought it was after all. And so two Big Moments have slipped away, and life goes ineluctably on.
So does history, though the citizens of Schabbach see very little of History directly. The Führer who seizes the imagination of some and implicates all in his vision remains a voice on the radio, a face in a frame on the wall. Even when one of the Simons visits Berlin as a low-level Nazi Party apparatchik, neither he nor the camera investigates the glow of a torchlight rally outside the window of the room where he makes love to his future wife. By the same token, the America toward which some members of the Simon family yearn is only a carefully memorized and recited postal address and, for one character who does get there, the Statue of Liberty glimpsed through the one pane in a window whose other panes have been blocked.
Heimat means homeland, and the homeland or heartland film was a national genre encouraged by Propaganda Minister Goebbels during the Hitler years (at one point two of the characters in Heimat go to see another movie called Heimat!). Reitz's film, so free of anything resembling melodrama, adopts a plain, unhurried visual approach that could almost be mistaken for documentary; yet it's a subtly stylized experience from beginning to end, with its interlayering of glowing color and pearly monochrome (sometimes within a single scene), epic detachment and discreet intimacy. The storytelling, too, is subtle, true to the rhythms of real life: characters who seem key to the narrative drift out of it never to be seen again, or perhaps to return, all but unrecognizable, years later; other characters who seem minor and incidental may come to assume remarkable significance and poignancy. Throughout, Marita Breuer as Maria, a young, lovely bride who becomes a matriarch by default, limns a character of quiet dignity and authority who remains the heart of the film, and of Schabbach, even after she has passed away. This film constitutes a definition and celebration of the idea of community, of having and sharing a place in the world. And once you've experienced it, lived with it, you'll feel part of its community as well. --Richard T. Jameson