Toronto, IDFA, New York, Visions du Réel, RIDM, Jeonju, Torino
An essay film exploring German history through three generations of the filmmaker’s family.
At 3 hours and 38 minutes, Thomas Heise’s cinematic essay is unforgiving, austere, and unlikely to find casual viewers – instead it will have its admirers among the German filmmaker’s existing fans and those who intentionally seek out challenging, if not outright experimental, work. Providing no context, the auteur simply launches into disaffected recitations of epistolic exchanges and diary entries of what turns out to be his own family, beginning during World War I and continuing through major events in German history through the fall of the Berlin Wall. Accompanying his flat voiceover are images that sometimes comment on the subject of the readings, and sometimes simply don’t. The most notable sequence, lengthy at nearly a half an hour, pairs a series of letters between a Jewish and Gentile couple during the Nazi era with a seemingly endless scroll of names of Jews who were confined to ghettos and later, one assumes, concentration camps. While there’s undeniably power in such sections, its impact – and that of the project as a whole – is lessened by Heise’s reservedness, distance, and aesthetic esotericism. While this is clearly a deliberate choice, it is also a frustrating one.
Update: Anthology Film Archives has postponed this theatrical engagement.