Notes on two films from the 2019 Berlinale


Heimat is a Space in Time  by Thomas Heise


“A Klee painting named ‘Angelus Novus’ shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.” Walter Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History

A collage of personal documents and black and white footage of landscapes and all sorts of spaces, Heimat is a Space in Time explores the history of Germany in the past century tracing the story of three generations of Thomas Heise’s family. It is a film that can be regarded as a curatorial work (every directors selects and orders its material, but in this case we witness a special, truly archivist aspect of that), with Heise carefully choosing his material and meticulously piecing it together. What is perhaps most striking about it are the shots more loosely associated with the story: those of torn highways, piles of dirt and branches, shadows made by windmills playing on trees – they mirror the broken life paths, the disrupted love stories, Heise’s approach to history (the piles recall Walter Benjamin’s thoughts about Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus), the passing of time, marked by alternating periods of shadow and sun. 

The Souvenir by Joanna Hogg

photograph by Agatha A. Nitecka
photograph by Agatha A. Nitecka

The Souvenir was perhaps the most striking films that screened at this year’s edition of the Berlinale. It deals with a troubled relationship that unfolds in a certain milieu, with a certain vibe, with certain logics of space. The period story (80s) takes us  on a trip through upper class restaurants, table manners, all sorts of posh habits and space, as well the bohemian faded attempts to escape them in an austere manner. Relationship, creation, drugs are the core themes .

Young film student Julie aspires to make films about something other than her privileged surroundings and is criticized by her teachers for not making use of her personal experiences. An advice director  Joanna Hogg, whose alter ego Julie certainly seems to be, followed afterwards. Julie hooks up with Anthony. It is not relevant how it happened, the film doesn’t show it. We see them in a restaurant, at what seems to be a business meeting or a date arranged by elderly people. It so happens this will remain the only time we see Anthony signing a check for anything. Later he will be asking for 10 pound bills and framing a burglary into Julies house, selling the objects in his heroin addiction.

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