Heimat! This Chronicle of Germany is a firm favourite of mine, and not just because of its fabulous duration. Heimat and I both entered the world 29 years ago, in 1984, and it was watching this intimate overview of the century that first set me on my current course of watching a hundred films from a hundred years, making some sense of the twentieth century as a single story. As you may note above, there is a video edition of this entry for those happier with dozens of clips than hundreds of written words.
Normally when you watch a film you sit down, you watch, things happen to characters, and you get your resolution and the film stops. Heimat, though, just keeps going. It is, in fact, very long, taking around sixteen hours to tell the story of a small village in rural Germany, and a family who live there. It starts in 1919 and just keeps on rolling until its 1982, by which time our central characters have grown up, grown old and begotten from their loins the new generation of central characters. In a film of such expanse I think it's no spoiler to say that almost everybody alive at the start of the story has died by the end. There's something fascinatingly unusual, something Old-Testament-like, about a story in which the main characters at the end aren't present at all at the start, and the only characters we meet in the first hour aren't there at all at the end. Heimat isn't like other films. It's like life.
|1938: Otto Wohlleben, who begat Hermann Simon
The film is made up of a number of films - see the postscript for quite how that works - and is shot variously in colour, sepia and monochrome, and on a variety of film-stocks. It starts almost entirely black and white,' because, y'know, things just were in those days, but is almost entirely in colour after colour television is introduced in West Germany in 1967 (August 25th, if you like to celebrate anniversaries). It takes a little getting used to, but seems utterly appropriate given how the century's story is one of technological advancement. Integral to the human stories playing out in the village are the introduction of the radio, the motorcycle, aircraft, and especially the development of advanced camera lenses, as a rural community in the middle of nowhere becomes part of the modern, industrial world. In the first half the town's core seems to be Matthias's forge - and I'm delighted to see that the prequel 'Die Andere Heimat' - set in the 1840s and coming to cinemas near you later this year - sees some prominent use of it. By the end, new industries have risen and fallen, and the village is quite radically different, but remains utterly recognisable.
|1944: Anton Simon adjusts a lens. He later founds Simon Optik
'Heimat', and its follow-ups 'Die Zweite Heimat' (1993) and 'Heimat 3' (2004) are high on my list of favourite things in the world, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if future generations value them highly for their quality as drama as well as their value as historical chronicles. It's just a pity that, being extremely long German films, most of my fellow Britons haven't found the time or urge to watch them.
|1982: Glasisch, who sees the whole story
P.P.S. I first discovered Heimat by accident, when an erstwhile housemate of mine mentioned seeing it in a local shop, accidentally reduced from £39 to £3.99, and suggested that I go out and buy two copies, one for him and one for myself, before the shopkeepers realised their error. It was an inauspicious start to a love affair.
The Heimat trilogy. Is there anything more alluring? No siree!