Date: Fri, 6 Feb 2004 14:34:40 -0000
From: "Ivan Mansley" <ivanman dsl.pipex.com>
"Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so...
...Thou'rt slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell;"
[John Donne 1573-1641]
HEIMAT Part 7: DIE LIEBE DER SOLDATEN [SOLDIERS and LOVE]
For the sake of convenience we can divide this episode into four acts and I shall say something about each in turn.
Act 1. Anton and the propaganda film unit somewhere in Russia on the Eastern Front. Somehow I had the feeling in this section that Reitz was more concerned with a private debate about the role of th ÿe film-maker than about the narrative drive of the film as a whole. We see troops watching a film with Anton doing the projecting and the soldiers singing and swaying along with the female lead. Was it Marlene Dietrich? There is the conflict between the artistic imagination and reality; this is brought sharply into focus by the captain arranging the branch of a tree in what he hopes is an artistic manner whilst villagers are being executed into a mass grave. Anton is shown as a sensitive soul who jerks violently at the sound of gunfire, but, of course, he cannot intervene. There was one very memorable image where the barrel of the telephoto lens turns into the barrel of a machine gun belching fire and bullets, but, to be honest, I found this section somewhat contrived and ultimately confusing, especially back in the processing lab, where two films seemed to be showing simultaneously; one a murder mystery based on the story of Dr. Crippen and the other documentary footag Íe of refugees being herded down to a river.
Act 2. Otto and Pieritz in Schabbach. Reitz certainly makes up for things with this wonderful section. Otto and Maria find true happiness, although, I think, we know it is doomed. The hesitancies of the two at first meeting is handled beautifully. They talk of externals; their true emotions are being suppressed. The scene in the bedroom is done with great tenderness. I noticed the way we see first Lotti's Corporal open the window, which then elides into Otto upstairs, looking out at the bombers droning above them, with their intolerable weight of iron. In the moon and candlelight, with the illumination on the faces of Otto and Maria, the scene has a painterly quality. Who does it remind you of? Rembrandt, perhaps? Otto tells Maria: "You've become more beautiful than before", and she certainly has! I was reminded, at times, of paintings of the Virgin Mary. I wonder if this was intentional. One particular moment, where I felt this intently, was Ì when Maria puts a log into the stove, and the flames, with a blue tinge, light up her face, giving it an unearthly radiance. I was very impressed by the way the camera focus came from directly behind the head of either Otto or Maria into the face of the other. It makes us,the audience, feel the presence of both characters. Maria explains why she sent Otto away [I shall not attempt to put this into words and spoil it], and in the background, all the time we have the droning of the bombers, rising and falling, which orchestrates their intimacies. In colour, we see the household asleep, including the cat on the stairs, and as Otto and Maria finally sleep their scene changes to colour. When Otto departs the next day his misinterpretation of a remark by Maria and the favourite gloves hanging in the windscreen prepare us for what is to come. This section, I thought, was touched by genius.
Act 3. Tragedy of Bomb Disposal. This section is overwhelming in its power. We know Otto is going to die. T æhe bomb is like a giant slug, lying under a railway turntable. There is an elegiac note from a flute, as Otto and Pieritz march towards the turntable, and then, Otto alone, moves into the mist. We have the excruciating slowness of the donning of the gloves, the clearing of dirt and debris from around the fuse, and the slow ratcheting of
the giant spanner. We are waiting with a huge sense of foreboding! Now I wish to be fanciful. The figure, who appears, inspecting the line is not a railwayman! He is Death, the Grim Reaper!! His hammer is the sickle/scythe; he is dressed in an old cap and scarf which envelop his features [the hood]. When he is lifted up after the explosion his face momentarily looks like a skull. He speaks to Otto: "I used to check this stretch", and then very significantly: "I'm always on duty." Death is always with us and he has come for Otto!! [see Durer's engravings. He was German, wasn't he?]. I noticed, on second viewing, that he only has one arm. I am not sure if this signifies anything. The association of death and maiming perhaps. The act finishes with the lonely figure of Maria on the rain-swept road [she knows what has happened] and Otto's explosion leads to the explosions of jettisoned bombs and raging fires. Corporal Specht is dead and the end is in sight. We have the birth of Martha's baby to show us life goes on. This section is also a masterpiece in its own right.
Act 4. Eduard and Lucie and the arrival of the Americans. The scene begins with a clever elision between Eduard taking a photograph of the villagers around a water-filled crater and the actual photo mounted in an album with a note beside it: "Entry of Americans into Schabbach on 18th March, 1945" and rather grimly: "H. Much & H. Specht killed in action 12.3.45." Death is everywhere! Lucie is obsessed with losing her possessions [dresses in particular] and is desperately calculating how to ingratiate herself w 9ith the Americans. She even demands that Wilfried leave in order to save her own skin. Only Eduard has the good sense to see: "Thank God it's over". The arrival of the two negro American military policemen is given great emphasis. They saunter up to the window with nonchalant ease, grinning, chewing gum, and talking lazily to each other. What a contrast with the demented Wilfried, making the Nazi salute and screaming "Deutschland,
Deutschland über alles" just before they get there. The credits roll over the faces of the two black soldiers, which become frozen in mid-conversation, and the film stock has changed to colour which heightens our concentration on this last, abiding image. Reitz is saying, "Here is the new order, which will be totally different from the old, in every way imaginable."