REVIEW: ‘Heimat is a Space in Time’ (2019) is One of the Most Affecting and Important Films of the Year

Rating: 5 out of 5.

“Powerful, fearless, and intellectually challenging.”

Out of all of the European powers, Germany undoubtedly had the most tumultuous 20th century: limping from the Kaiser to hyperinflation to a fascist who would bring about one of the worst atrocities the western world would eversee. The country was divided for half of the century, then at the very end united almost overnight. Director Thomas Heise, born and raised in East Berlin, gives us a portrait of Germany throughout the 20th century in his opus Heimat is a Space in Time, a film that manages to combine family and national histories in away that truly highlights the human cost of the many brutalities the country faced.

Heise has been working with the documentary form for a while now, with his early documentaries and radio pieces being prohibited by the East German government. Heimat is a Space in Time is his first film since 2014’s Städtebewohner, a film about San Fernando prison in Mexico. Heimat marks his return to filmmaking set in and about Germany, tying together his interest in the nation’s preoccupation with totalitarianism with his cold Brechtian take on the documentary aesthetic.

A documentary very much in the style of Chantal Akerman’s News From Home (1977), through flat-toned narration Heise draws on letters, diaries, resumes, and various other artefacts as he takes us through almost 100 years of his own family history. Using contemporary footage as well as visual aids such as old photographs and drawings, this aesthetic take allows the viewer time to not only digest the sometimes touching, sometimes distressing narration, but also paints a contemporary canvas on which the stories can be presented as context. One particularly harrowing moment of the film is a thirty-minute segment in which the screen is filled by a Nazi document from 1941. The document is simply a list of names, all of which were Jewish people who were forcibly moved to ghettos and, later on, concentration camps. This is paired with brief and brutal letters that highlight an often-overlooked factor of the holocaust – that it was no swift affair; the removal of rights and resources from the lives of Jewish people happened slowly over time. The letters also highlight the willingness of non-Jewish Germans to commit to the Nazi’s heinous regime, both actively and passively, painting a bleak picture of Germany’s past, unwavering in its relaying of the horrors Jewish people faced.

Though perhaps a difficult watch for some viewers, Heimat is a Space in Time is one of the most affecting and important films of the year, providing a truly clinical analysis of a state’s history, and doing so without fear of criticism. Heise’s opus manages to perfectly balance personal and national trauma in a way that allows for deeper insight into the hurt felt by so many throughout a century that brought innumerable trials and tribulations for the German people.

Director: Thomas Heise
Producer: Heino Deckert, Johannes Rosenberger, Constantin Wulff, Johannes Holzhausen
Release Date: Screening at the ICA until December 10th

Heimat is a Space in Time Trailer