Edgar Reitz about his new film Coming and going

Edgar Reitz
Edgar Reitz | Photo (detail): © Edgar Reitz

The new film from Edgar Reitz, “Die andere Heimat. Chronik einer Sehnsucht” came out in German theaters on October 3rd 2013. We spoke with the director about what “home” means to him and how the cycle of leaving and returning has influenced his life.

Mr Reitz, home is a central theme in your work. Where is yours? In your art?

Yes, more so than in reality. If I look at the term “home” as something real, historical or social, it becomes something questionable, something fragile, or for many people something that has even been lost. In reality you can't possess home as such, and the best way to express that is with an example: If I own a house somewhere, is the neighbor's garden also part of my “home”? Or the street in front of my house? If the neighbor and I don't get along, I can't cut the hedges that grow over the fence. Looking at it that way it's easy to see where the concept of home ends and where reality begins. Home can't be possessed, but you can make it something lasting through memories or by using it as a connection to memories through art. What one has lost can also be reclaimed through art.

When did really start focusing on the subject of “home”?

I am 80 years old now, an age when you begin looking back on life, and I have noticed that I've always been on the same path – from the very beginning. That is not something we like to admit at a certain age. We want to be people who can make independent decisions, who have loads of options and who are constantly adjusting their perspectives on things. And yet we are often shocked to see that from the very first day we have basically been operating in the same cycles and vortexes around a certain core. In my case it has always been this process of leaving and returning, and you can see that in all of my films. Home always plays a role: leaving and returning always have something to do with the concept of “home”.

The main setting in your latest film is once again Schabbach im Hunsrück, a fictional place. Is that something like your “Archimedean point” where you want to lift the world off its axis?

Schabbach is remote, yeah, but it's doubtful that we'll be able to lift the world off its axis with it. I don't think a filmmaker can have that kind of impact. That is too much to expect.

Is Schabbach a magical point that pervades reality?

This fictitious place has begun growing in reality. I never expected that, by the way, that poetry or poetic creations have the tendency to become real. Schabbach, a fictitious place, is transforming itself more and more into a real place. If you go to Hunsrück these days and ask where Schabbach is, people take you there, which is the same thing that happened with the Günderode House in Heimat 3. It is still a destination for excursions on the banks of the Rhine. 100,000 people go there every year. The cemetery in Schabbach is still a tourist destination for people from England and Australia who visit the grave of the Simons. The town takes care of the upkeep for the fictitious film graves, so that is an example of where poetry is penetrating reality and not the other way around, as we always expect.

How much has your three-decade long occupation with the subject of “home” changed you?

That is hard to say. We often don't know ourselves as well as other people might, but there is obviously a bit of a short circuit there since I included the word Heimat in all of the film titles. That wasn't necessary, really. If I look at these 30 films individually – and they are all feature films of at least two hours in length – I see that all of them have their own themes, which would have justified a unique title for each one. But the word “Heimat” just became an anchor of sorts, a hallmark and later something that opened doors for me. This latest film didn't have to have the name Heimat and didn't need to take place in Schabbach, but I set it there and gave it the name and all of a sudden the financing for the project was made available to me.

You once said that a television editorial staffer said to you, “You can do everything, just not a Reitz film.”

Yes, that was for Heimat 3, but this new film was done with a lot of creative freedom. If it has flaws then they are my fault. I can't complain one bit about any sort of interference here, but it's not really a TV movie. Television had very little to do with its production and not one editorial person was sent to me during the entire time. None of those fears were valid in this case. When I decided to film the story in Hunsrück, in that fictitious village, I noticed that I was in a milieu that was very familiar to me. And there was another reason for the decision. When a story takes place in the 19th century, you can't go looking for sets. They can't be found. There are no places that still fully represent that era, at least not in the context of poor people. If a story takes place in a castle, then it works. The rich have always been able to pass on their milieu. Poor people haven't. The life of poor people is lost from every generation, so for films we have to recreate it. The entire set is built for the film, a fictitious setting from the start, so why not call it Schabbach this time too.

Could you envision yourself making a film that doesn't tell the tale of a former home, but instead of the search for a future home in, say, 2050?

I can't imagine it, no. I would have to become a prophet and a speculator; someone who creates utopian things and uses film to show theoretical viewpoints, hopes or fears. I'm not interested in that. I would immediately become a speculator and would no longer be able to control whether the images I create have anything to do with life itself.