Starring: Jan Dieter Schneider, Marita Breuer, Antonia Bird
Director: Edgar Reitz
From Edgar Reitz, the maker of Heimat, comes another epic drama. Here the setting is rural Prussia in the 1840s, and our protagonist is Jakob (Jan Dieter Schneider), a bookish blacksmith’s son who isn’t cut out for village life and instead longs to up sticks and travel to the New World. For thousands of his fellow countrymen, the long journey to Brazil is made out of desperation and poverty, but for Jakob it’s a consuming passion. However, preoccupied as he is with his studies of Amazonian languages and fauna, he’s slow to react when he develops feelings for the high-spirited Jettchen (Antonia Bird), who also has a head full of fantasies. And as the grim realities of village life – bleak winters, an oppressive aristocracy, diphtheria epidemics – begin to bite, it seems as if his dreams may come to nothing.
For much of the time, you’re in the position of waiting for something to happen, but Reitz handles this air of expectancy very well. It’s a slow rhythmed, pastoral story that makes you think of writers like Knut Hamsun, and Reitz has a great novelist’s way of building sequences and sketching in vignettes which etch themselves on your memory – Jakob’s first sight of Jettchen, rolling naked in clover as a cure for boils, a scene of grape picking, the tragicomic moment when Jakob’s uncle drops dead at the loom – and the warmth and steadiness of his approach embraces even the less likeable characters (Jakob’s short-tempered father and selfish elder brother) and discovers their humanity. The whole thing is shot in a hyper-real black-and-white which works very well – you really do feel as though you’re looking through an old photograph album that has come to life, observing Jakob’s heartaches through a chasm of time that only makes you ache for him all more deeply.
Throughout, there are strong, convincing performances, most notably a heart-rending one by Marita Breuer as Jakob’s nobly persevering mother and a sparkling turn from Antonia Bird, who has something of a young Cate Blanchett about her.
Home From Home is a film about dreams and imprisonment, about the urge to get away versus the need to make the best of what you’ve got, and it’s fully worthy of Reitz’s earlier masterpieces. 8/10