TELEVISION / Down Gedachtnis lane: Thomas Sutcliffe feels 15 years younger after watching Edgar Reitz's The Second Heimat

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The Independent Culture
The opening sequence of The Second Heimat (Sat, BBC 2) shows you dusk falling over Munich, speeded up so that the light drains from the sky and the windows of the city brighten in the darkness. Across the black, the lights of planes skim like tracer. I take this brief prelude of acceleration as the director's little joke because one of the principle features of what follows is a leisurely refusal of compression quite uncharacteristic of television. Film editing means that surreptitious economies are available in even the most directly observed scenes - reverse the angle here and snip a couple of seconds, cut from the knock on the door to your character sitting down and sipping his tea and you gain a couple of minutes. We don't notice the excisions because we are used to the fact that television always travels by short cuts.

Edgar Reitz is forced to use the same devices, of course, but you sometimes get the feeling that at night he dreams of the perfect film - one in which the depiction of a life would last a lifetime. It needs to be said that this isn't a complaint because, as that last phrase shows, the language of criticism is prejudiced against duration. But though The Second Heimat requires endurance of its viewers (the first episode lasted an hour and 55 minutes and there are 12 more of similar length), it repays it with an extraordinary depth of detail and feeling. I have watched 30-minute sitcoms that felt 10 times as long.

This series - subtitled 'A New Generation' - follows Maria Simon's son Hermann from the rural town of Schabbach (the focus of Reitz's first film) to Munich, where he enrols at music school. He has left because his first love affair has been broken up by his mother and before he leaves he swears - in a scene shot with the expressionism of adolescent emotion - never to love again, never to return and to dedicate himself to music. His arrival in the city is that of a fairy-tale; he is a young man gilded with luck. He finds lodgings in the home of a Hungarian music-lover, is given a bed by a calf-eyed girl and helped to pass a crucial aural test by a conveniently placed piano lid.

It can't have been that easy, you think, before you realise that the film isn't so much a recollection of events as a recollection of feelings. Sections of the film are charged with Hermann's emotions, his doubt and excitement, particularly, in this first episode, his mildly callow exhilaration at his own cleverness. In very short order we encounter arguments about predestination, the heroic theories of history, avant-garde art, a brief masterclass on Webern's Three Pieces and the first shock of the Nouvelle Vague. (It is not what Hollywood understands by an adolescent storyline.) At another point, after a period of relatively calm narration, we vault across the university canteen tables in a great swoop, ending on a mad percussion suite played out by the students with utensils and water jugs. It is as if the sudden skittish exuberance of a young man has been released - or as if the camera has forgotten its age.