Writer and director Edgar Reitz made one of the landmark pieces of German filmmaking in 1984 with his film Heimat (rough translation: Homeland), a fifteen-and-a-half hour film broken into eleven “episodes” about life in Germany from 1919 to 1982. The film used wider social and political events as a backdrop for the long-spanning struggles and joys of the Simon family. The filmmaker returned 9 years later with the second installment focusing on the 1960s that beefed up the runtime to twenty-five hours consisting of thirteen “episodes.” There have been a few more entries, but in 2013 the director released his latest installment Home From Home: Chronicle of a Vision, which serves as a prequel set from 1840-1844, and runs a scant four hours in length uninterrupted. Although focusing once again on the Simon family, you do not have to have any previous knowledge of the series to enjoy this engrossing look at the characters in this small German village.
This installment takes place in the fictional Hunsrück village of Schabbach, and focuses primarily on the lives of two brothers. Gustav (Maximilian Scheidt) is the more practical brother who has recently returned home from military service and is content with helping his father (Rüdiger Kriese) with the blacksmith duties. The heart of the film is Jakob (Jan Dieter Schneider); a disappointment to his father who dreams of faraway lands and always has his nose in a book. The area has been beset with poverty and is quietly bristling at the oppression from those who claim to be an authority over the land. During this time period, Germany was experiencing widespread emigration to South America due to their poor living conditions. Jakob is doing everything he knows to do to prepare for his exodus from his home. He knows there is more to the world than poverty and unbearable winters, and he is committed to learning every useful fact and native dialect to prepare for his new life. Although very focused on his mission, it is fair to say he gets a little distracted by a potential romance with the delightfully curious Henriette (Antonia Bill), a girl from a nearby village.
No one has ever really understood Jakob, except for possibly his mother (Marita Breuer), but Henriette lights up and engages with him like no one else ever has. The scenes of the two young people sharing an intimate conversation are some of the best of the film. Jakob allows himself to be vulnerable and teaches Henriette many of the things he has learned from his books, which she absorbs like a sponge. In an magical bit of pacing, you will be surprised to learn nearly two hours have passed by the time you get to a critical juncture in the film. The film gets you so engrossed by just watching these characters existing in different contexts that you will feel like you have been punched in the gut by certain developments that I would not dare give away. Reitz does a masterful job at making you empathize with the plight of these characters, even when you know how cruel the world could be during this time. A four-hour runtime may seem indulgent and scare those who are not hardcore cinephiles away, but it proves to be essential in totally immersing you into the lives of these characters. When they experience pain and loss, you truly understand the ramifications.
The film is photographed in a beautiful black-and-white with the occasional splash of color, which comes across cheesy rather than inspired. This is truly the only visual flaw in the otherwise stunning film. Reitz has gone to such great lengths to accurately construct a village in which every little detail places you in the 1800s. The hypnotic nature of the film makes you feel like you have been transported to another time. The majority of the actors had little to no film acting experience, but they turn in performances so lived-in and natural that you would never believe it. It is difficult to explain exactly why this film is so engrossing. It has all of the elements of something that just might bore you to tears, but it does not take long for it to cast a spell that will leave you savoring every moment with these characters that you come to love. Honestly, I understand if a four-hour black-and-white German film set in the 1800s does not sound like a fun time, but trust me when I say it is a moving and engrossing experience if you are willing to press play.
Home From Home: Chronicle of a Vision comes to DVD on a single disc in 480p. The resulting image is passable, but far from what you would desire from a film with such gorgeous cinematography. This is a film that is practically begging for a Blu-Ray release. The image feels a bit flat with little in the way of fine detail. There are compression artifacts and digital noise, especially noticeable in the darker scenes. Close-up, static shots fare better than any long-shots or panning sequences. The visual presentation is not terrible by any means, but your heart breaks ever so slightly as to what could have been in high definition.
The audio portion of the disc fares much better with its Dolby Digital 5.1 track in the original German. The film leans very dialogue heavy when its not just allowing the sounds of nature to fill the soundscape. Dialogue comes through crystal clear right in the center channel. Sounds are balanced well with nothing ever feeling overpowered. The surround channels employ some engaging sound effects such as wind and thunder to envelop this viewer. There is almost nothing in the way of intense action in the film, but the festival does allow for some lively moments with music. Overall, this audio track serves the film incredibly well.
There are no special features included on this disc.
Home From Home: Chronicle of a Vision is a staggering piece of filmmaking that flies by in spite of its lengthy runtime. The film delicately draws you into the lives of these characters and gets you invested in ways that will take you by surprise. Corinth Films has rescued this film from obscurity for the American audience by giving it a domestic release. If you are a fan of German cinema, or are just up for taking a chance on an engrossing depiction of a tight knit community, give this one a shot! Highly Recommended
Home From Home: Chronicle of a Vision will be available to purchase on DVD and Digital on July 28, 2020.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the DVD.
Disclaimer: Corinth Films has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.