TIFF 2019 Review: Heimat is a Space in Time

by Andrew Parker

Stunning, rigorous, and heart rending, Heimat is a Space in Time, the latest from veteran German filmmaker Thomas Heise, examines the director’s family across four generations, and uses that shared past as context for various themes and images that can best describe his homeland’s fraught and violent history. Clocking in at over three and a half hours, Heimat is a Space in Time one of the most epic and ethereal films at the festival this year. It’s also one of the most moving and creative.

Heise narrates over black and white images of modern day Germany in various states of nature, repair, and ruin. His family, since the turn of the century, has obviously been touched by war, atrocities, and genocide. There have been booms and busts; flourishes of hope, broken promises, and sometimes unavoidable tragedies that have nothing to do with the current political or social climate. To tell these narratives, Heimat is a Space in Time pulls exclusively from a bountiful archive of letters, notes, and diary entries. Astoundingly, Heise is able to even incorporate relevant homework assignments and recipes that have been kicking around since the turn of the twentieth century, including an assignment from a twelve year old who speaks vividly and shockingly of the violence he has seen in his short lifetime.

It’s an astounding, enriching, and deeply personal achievement for Heise, made all the more hypnotizing by the images being projected: broken roadways, the view from the back of a streetcar on a slushy winter’s day, a slow moving train pulling into a massive, quiet railyard, and most memorably, an unbroken, nearly twenty-five minute long take that simply scans over a list of names while letters describe what Heise’s family was doing during the early days of the holocaust. 

Some periods in the life of the family are naturally more captivating and dramatic than others, with events during the restoration period following World War II strangely becoming the most dramatic and fruitful. Heimat is a Space in Time sounds like a daunting proposition, but it really doesn’t ask more of its audience than most mainstream films. It wants viewers to engage with it and think about its anti-nostalgic, scrapbook construction, and Heise accomplishes his ambitious goals with ease and grace.

Friday, September 6, 2019 – 1:00 pm – TIFF Bell Lightbox 4

Sunday, September 15, 2019 – 12:45 pm – AGO Jackman Hall

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