Heimat is a Space in Time

Heimat is a Space in Time
Thomas Heise

Filmproduktions GmbH (2019)
218 mins., b/w, German with English sub-titles

Chez Jolie Coiffure
Rosine Mbakam

Tandor Productions (2018)
70 mins., col., French, Cameroon, English, with English sub-titles

The Cordillera of Dreams
Patricio Guzman

Atacama Productions (2019)
85 mins., col., Spanish with English sub-titles

Icarus Films
Brooklyn, NY
Distributor’s website: http://www.IcarusFilms.com.

Reviewed by
Mike Leggett
May 2020

These are reviews of a new group of DVDs from Icarus, the distributor of moving image documents made independently of corporations by an international group of filmmakers. The film-makers work with small budgets but are well represented at the various festivals dedicated to an approach to the medium like an essay, prose or poetry, with space for reflection and thought. The technology of digital media makes this financially possible whilst also maintaining an unintrusive presence in the recording process. These three productions gather such advantages in different ways.

Heimat is a Space in Time collects documents on paper from the 20th Century, recorded, written, discovered and photographed by the filmmaker’s German family. The filmmaker reads from letters and diaries, whilst the images of places where we imagine the events took place are seen as they are today, snow-covered or desolate landscapes, cities re-built, re-populated, trains and train tracks, each shot a steadily made pan, or track, or scroll. It is a modern history recorded by family members through the First World War, then the Second, and on to the Cold War, with at first casual cards and letters, through disbelief as deportations were taking place to the East, onto the rancor of family survivors separated on either side of the Iron Curtain: “We can’t see the flow of history,” says one. A popular chorus from the 1930s in German pops up occasionally: “Just you never mind.”

Thomas Heise is the son of a philosopher fired by the authorities in the East, declaring he “doesn’t care to go under in the current theatre of forgetting”; the playwright Heine Müller makes an appearance in sound and photos. “This film whose material interests me; something foreign that I’ll take possession of.”

At over three hours duration, there is ample time to reflect, to interpret what is being seen and heard, being active in piecing together significance and meaning. It is a cool, almost like the images themselves, a frozen, symmetrical aesthetic, set against the horror of the killing machines of Fascism and modern technology, not always seen but implied, the quotidian often presented in the form of trains and the inexorable processes of shunting and marshalling yards. Metaphors can be applied at will but the humanist document the film evokes the visual aesthetic provoked by the post-War Family of Man photographic exhibition.

By contrast Chez Jolie Coiffure (Our Pretty Hairstyle) is an engrossing observational document of life in Sabine’s salon, a tiny space on the corner of a mini-mall in a European city. “Bring the camera in here, Rosine,” she says to the filmmaker, “the junkies round here may break it.” Squeezed into various corners over the period of recording, a surprisingly variety of visual perspectives are encountered, a collage of mirrors, glass, product containers, samples, packets of accessories, coffee cups and soda cans. The visual landscape is pierced by the comings and goings of Sabine and her employees, various traders, the clientele, all requiring magnificent hair preparation, intricate braiding, plating, brushing and sewing. Then begin the stories: boy-friends, husbands, (who occasionally pop-in), the refugee experience of journeys and servitude to white families, money and its shortage, police raids, pregnancy. “It was very tough,” until finding the African Quarter in town (never identified but doubtless alike throughout Europe), the salon now the community centre. Outside in the mall adorned with murals of home, school parties, and tour guide groups come to gape at an Africa on the periphery: “When we go to the zoo we pay; they should pay too…” says Sabine; “It’s non-stop.”

Patricio Guzman, the director of the third film reviewed here, The Cordillera of Dreams, has made over 20 films about the country he was forced to leave following ‘the volcanic’ coup d’Etat in Chile during 1973, to live in France where he remains. Chicago economics is cited as the driving factor, along with the U.S. government for maintaining the dictatorship over 25 years; the dictator has gone but the divisive economics remains. The message is strong and the delivery is likewise, rich in visual and verbal poetic substance. Guzman remains close to the earth, to the mountains remembered from his childhood, which like a map of his city Santiago, is a mirror of the fissures and cracks in the slabs of stone quarried by his sculptor friend from the Cordillera, the Andes Mountains. The mountains comprise 80% of the country and sit, like “the back of a chair . . . a rocky container,” in the words of the sculptor, who stayed behind following the coup.

Drone technology has become an indispensable tool for filmmakers and Guzman uses it, as with the camera, with gentle restraint, examining his ruined home, observing the military parades and revealing mountainous quarries from where Chile’s copper wealth is silently removed, by nighttime trains, for the benefit of overseas investors, we learn, from another filmmaker who documented the harsh realities of life under the junta. Using succeeding formats of video technologies, he recorded the flash squad demonstrations by women and students, imaginative and peaceful, summarily broken up by water cannon, tear gas, and baton wielding police (tools still used in Chile to this day). Guzman’s gentle voice guides the way through memory and evidence toward realization, the thinker close to the pictures we see, nudging us toward an understanding of the importance of us recording and archiving, for the purpose of “writing the memory of the future.”