CAPSULE: Filmmaker Heddy Honigmann does a photo-essay of the people who come to Paris's Père Lachaise Cemetery to visit dead relatives and/or some of the world's greatest artists who are buried there. Much of the film turns into a study of how the dead live on and inspire the living. Sometimes this film is on target and sometimes it is just a little over the top. It is an ambitious effort that does not always work. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Heddy Honigmann takes an extended look at Life, Death, Art, and Beauty as viewed from and in relation to the Père Lachaise Cemetery. This burial ground, also known as the East Cemetery, is the largest in the city of Paris. Being the cemetery of Paris, it is the resting place of many of the great artistic people of this city of art. Some of the luminaries whose graves are found in this beautiful, ornate burial ground include Frederic Chopin, Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust, Maria Callas, Pierre Abélard and Héloïse, Max Ernst, Amedeo Modigliani, and (in a less classical vein) George Méliès, Yves Montand, Simone Signoret, and Jim Morrison. The cemetery is now a park for quiet contemplation, and it draws people from all over the city.
Honigmann interviews visitors many of whom have some special artist whose resting place they go to. One man initially detested the writing of Marcel Proust but converted by his wife now presents the writing of Proust to others in the form of comic books. Others take inspiration from the tombs of their heroes who are dead. One man interviewed has a love of Amedeo Modigliani, whose elongated images of women seem to have an ethereal light about them. Honigmann finds one after another. In between she shows us nearly endless images of people caring for graves by pouring water on flowers from plastic drinking bottles or dusting tombs. Or she will show one visitor standing in silence for minutes while behind we hear only the sound of traffic. Someone complains that a grave of a loved one is too close to that of Jim Morrison and therefore gets a little too much traffic and noise. Elsewhere we see a memorial to Paris citizens who were "deported" to Nazi death camps.
The whole feeling is one of admiration of the exquisite beauty of the cemetery and long interludes of luxuriating in the magnificence. This is great at first, but presently it becomes a little oppressive. We go from delicate statuary to stunning displays of flowers. A little of that goes a long way. Some who come to this same destination each day seem to "live, like a hair- dresser, in the continual contemplation of beauty," as George Bernard Shaw put it describing his vision of Hell.
But the visitors do come to sit in the park, to meditate on the loveliness, and to visit their dead loved ones. Some talk to the dead. There are certainly macabre aspects to this film. One Honigmann talked to was a mortician who daily decorates the dead, making them up for their last exposure to their family and friends. He takes his day off among the dead. Elsewhere the camera focuses in on a spider larger than one would expect in the City of Paris.
The film really starts and ends with Yoshino Kimura, a pristine young pianist who plays Chopin flawlessly. She visits the tomb of Chopin and finds motivation from him. He seems to live on through her and she seems a perfect model of being dedicated to her art. A little surprisingly, the IMDB lists 41 acting credits for her so music is at best a part-time pursuit.
At times the film seems a little pretentious, but FOREVER is a reasonable, not perfect, meditation on art and beauty and the relation of the living artist with the dead who have contributed to his art. I would rate FOREVER a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: <http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0906743/>
What others are saying: <http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/10008403-forever/>
Mark R. Leeper
Copyright 2009 Mark R. Leeper