What traces of the past have survived into the here and now? In this epic essay film, Thomas Heise explores this question using documents from his family’s archive, including letters, journals, photographs, high school essays written by his ancestors, and even unfinished resumes. In four parts, he presents the hundred-year narrative of his family, and with it his homeland of Germany—from the economic collapse of the Weimar Republic through two world wars to Heise’s own youth in East Germany.
Heise reads the documents in voice-over. Sometimes we see the documents themselves, but more often his words are accompanied by impressive black-and-white images of the places mentioned by the family—not as they were then, but as they are now. Subway stations thronged with the good citizenry. Simple row houses. A now derelict concentration camp. No matter how everyday or banal the subjects of the letters may sometimes be, this “guilty landscape” holds the focus on a greater reality, one that was often beyond the full comprehension of Heise’s family.