A discussion of an aspect of the Reitz interviews

by Angela Skrimshire

There are links to all the interviews I quote from at http://www.heimat123.net/interviews/ .

Some viewers have seen the disasters that befall the characters of Heimat 3 as a ‘nemesis’ on their ‘hubris’. There is an element of Schadenfreude in for instance interpreting the misfortunes of Hermann and Clarissa, now successful middle-class musicians absorbed in pursuit of their difficult art, as a kind of retribution for being ‘selfish’ or deluded, or ‘having it too good’.

In contrast, interviews with Edgar Reitz suggest that his own view of the modern world and of his characters, though often despondent, is not moralistic or eager to invoke nemesis on others.

The Dutch interviewer, Maarten van Bracht (24/12/04), tackled the issue of Schadenfreude directly, and received some good replies. He asked

In part 4 “Allen geht’s gut” prosperity brings greed, vanity, paranoia, unfaithfulness and loss of tradition with it. It seems you take pleasure in handing out mishap and unhappiness.

To which Reitz replied:

“Well, I merely describe them. It is difficult to say something about this; it is painful. When I observe and describe things like these, it hurts, but at the same time it is comical”

He gives Anton’s funeral as an example, and adds:

“ …..it is sad and nobody can help laughing. That is the feeling I kept having, tragic and comical at the same time. And astonishment about how stupidly man can behave.”

The same interviewer then asked:

For Hermann and Clarissa happiness, homeliness and creativity do not go together. They need unrest, unhappiness and physical distance for that. Is it unavoidable that creative people suffer more than normal ones?

Reitz replied at length, concluding:

“……………..I prefer a form of happiness – not the banal kind of the consumer, happy with material possessions – in which one remains creative. Now, you build a house in a lovely spot, you go and live there with a woman you love, in the expection that you will have to be happy. However, I do not think that Hermann will rediscover his creative power because of being unhappy, but because he is liberated from this incorrect, this wrong kind of, happiness that consists of superficial matters. So I do not think that happiness and creativity are mutually exclusive, provided that the happiness is real because of a spiritual dimension.”

Similarly, in the Question and Answer session at the London Goethe Institute (17/04/05), Ivan Mansley asked, concerning Hermann’s accident with the pinemarten trap:

……………Was that accident meant to signify in any way a punishment, for his attitude, his selfish attitude, perhaps his introverted attitude, his turning away from the problems of others, was it a kind of hubris, a punishment by the gods, or just was it sheer chance, as it were ?

Retiz’ reply, as interpreted at the time, was:

“Yes, when we were writing the script we felt that Hermann simply had it too good. In life it can’t be that good, something bad always happens in that kind of circumstance, Clarissa leaves, and he gets creative, but that was just a little bit too - it was too little for me, that didn’t add up, it was too simple, your love leaves, and then you become creative, no, in that circumstance you fall into a trap. And for that reason, yes, of course that trap is to some extent symbolic. That’s what happens in that situation.”

I think this reply needs to be understood in the context of Reitz’ observations elsewhere. For a start, he is not one to consider an “introverted attitude” as necessarily “selfish” – in the Die Zeit interview of 16/12/04, for instance, he says:

A new kind of politics can only be conceived from private experience: When I understand myself, I will be understandable to others. These days, what is purely personal has a reactionary taint and is unjustly suspected of evading responsibility.”

At the same time, however, he constantly maintains that

(In the family) “ …one HAS to solve the problems, one must always find a social solution or a solution with other people. One’s own happiness must be reflected in the happiness of other people. There is no happiness alone – that’s what family teaches us.” (VPRO television documentary 19/12/04)

It is this ability to handle complexity and ambiguity that makes Reitz’ work so rich and authentic. Most of the time he is observing rather than judging, and when he judges, it is as much himself as other people whom he judges.

Again in the London Q&A he describes Hermann and Clarissa’s predicament in terms of

“……… a new kind of Romanticism ……… the romantic idea that life is a journey without an end ……….. but what I believe is that concrete experiences ARE needed, one does need stability, you need to arrive, in the sense that you need a house – a place, a house, a landscape and a family.………….

And this is what’s so important for Hermann and Clarissa, they try to find something else, …………….they want to find a place of stability for their love, they want to realise a kind of romantic ideal, and this precisely leads to the problems that they confront, and what it really does is that it relativises everything, it reminds you that life is short and that dreams won’t have a reality for very long.

But in the Die Zeit interview, after a similarly despondent critique of Romanticism as

“the source of individualistic modernism, the dreams of love, of being an artist and also of growth and mobility, of this idea of being always at the beginning, and seeing life as a journey into unknown distances, artistic, or simply just personal” ,

he continues:

“My generation and that of ’68 is very strongly caught up in these questions. I am looking for a story-teller’s answer to our idea of a life-image, to the question: What is left of all that I have wanted in my life? It is still legitimate to want to save something from one’s dreams.”

So when his characters confront a kind of nemesis, he is only observing and judging a vulnerable aspect of himself, which he sees as responsible for his present despondency, and which nonetheless is still a deep source of his own inspiration. Again, a fascinating, creative ambivalence…

This also informs the character of Hermann. The actor Henry Arnold confirms the Hermann of Heimat 3 “has become a quite different man” from the Hermann of DZH :

It’s not just that he’s a bit older than I am, but his view of the world, what he formerly expected from himself, his life, and also his music and his art, is so changed that I had to invent him as a new man.” (VPRO television documentary 19/12/04)

Hermann in H3 has become the bearer of one of Reitz’ most pessimistic observations. Reitz told Maarten van Bracht (24.12.04):

“Hermann was the person with ideals. He, as the central figure in Die Zweite Heimat, ran away from his village. He, unlike his brothers, went to find a richer, more fulfilling, life somewhere else. When back in Hunsrück he accidentally stumbles on his family, but he thinks he can keep his distance. Then he finds out that his brothers are better able to cope with life, have stronger characters than he does. They have an “anchor point”, they have answered certain questions for themselves. But Hermann is in fact at a loss – and that applies to all current intellectuals, they are at a loss in a special way. The problem is that they have long thought that they followed the just, the better way. With hindsight that is clearly not the case, but they cannot turn back and make their way again, despite all their experience, knowledge and ideals. This makes them speechless. Hermann increasingly lacks language, text. Compared with the others his character becomes steadily less outspoken, more a rather pale character, (smiles) finally he is almost like anybody else. I struggled with that, because I was not sure anymore how I had to place Hermann over against the others.

I am not happy that he, the artist, has become a “discontinued model”. I am of the opinion that artists need a different form of self consciousness, that they have to think freely and aggressively, that they have to influence society.”

But at almost the same time, in the Die Zeit interview (16.12.04), he ends a similar though much briefer description of Hermann with the words:

“…….. today the intellectual is remarkably helpless. All the same, I sympathise with this helplessness.”

Again in judging Hermann, he judges himself.

About Clarissa’s illness, he speaks in a very different way (VPRO television documentary 19/12/04):

The love of Hermann and Clarissa is for me a quite central theme, it starts in DZH. The most important thing is that both partners, the man and the woman both remain a mystery to each other. The particular stimulus for love is that the other, the You, the opposite, in Hermann’s eyes Clarissa, is someone who can never be entirely known.”

The interviewer asks: Is that a precondition for the relationship to continue?

Reitz replies:

Yes, that actually happens, a dreadful thing happens. She has left him and then she comes back and she is ill. She has a severe illness, she had it inside her for a long time and didn’t know. He has always seen her as stronger than him, with the freedom to go away. Then suddenly he sees that his beloved wife is sick and needs his help, and then everything is turned upside down and becomes strange to him, and thereby she again becomes strange to him and love can arise again.”

One wonders how this very male response would sound to Clarissa, especially as it was she not Hermann who left the relationship! However it is moving, and a long way from the disturbing notion that she might have been somehow “brought low” by her illness in retribution for her illusions.

When the Die Zeit interviewer asks “What is left then?” , Reitz replies:

“In the end, it seems as if we must start all over again from the beginning. That, and also because I know of no final answer, is why I have set the image of the family at the end.”

So maybe we can lay to rest some of the stuff about hubris and nemesis etc, and focus on the rich, complex, ambiguous and authentic material in the film, the work of a director whose self-knowledge goes parallel with his understanding of and empathy with others.

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