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RIDM Preview: Forever

Posted by John / November 14, 2006

forever.jpgDotted with the tombs of authors, musicians and artists of days gone by, the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris is one of the world's most well-known graveyards and as such always at risk of a clichéd treatment. But Peruvian-born Dutch director Heddy Honigmann's curious, awkward, and ultimately beautiful film, Forever, skips the obvious entirely and instead presents a unique and unexpected contemplation of life and art and death.

How does one depict Père Lachaise? You could devote hours to footage of celebrity gravestones, or dwell upon the fame of some of the inhabitants who draw the largest crowds, like Jim Morrison or Oscar Wilde, but these would result in the film equivalent of a tour-book guided trip through the cemetery; all surface, no substance.

Honigmann recognizes that dead men (and women) tell no tales, and that Père Lachaise's story is best told by the living people inside its walls, and by their relationships, whatever they are, with the departed. So she sets up her camera near the tombs of various artistic giants (Proust, Modigliani, Chopin, Simone Signoret, Maria Callas), and then allows the film to escape from within the cemetery's walls on delicate tangents into the lives of those who come to visit.

We meet a Japanese pianist who visits Chopin's tomb, whose moment of silence in front of it seems entirely authentic and devoid of the self-consciousness, and then visit her apartment and learn that, for her, playing Chopin is a reminder of her father, who died young from overwork. Her interpretations of Chopin's compositions return to accompany various parts of the film.

At the tomb of Iranian writer Sadegh Hedayat, an Iranian immigrant who now drives a taxi in Paris reveals that his true love is to sing, and is eventually coaxed into performing for the camera. At Proust's grave a Parisian man nearing 40 tells how his second attempt at reading La Recherche led him to draw a comic book version of the tome, which sold thousands of copies. "Art," the artist tells the filmmaker as he shows her pages from the book, "is eternity." She disagrees, and he replies that hundreds of people flock to the Louvre every day to see Da Vinci's Mona Lisa. Painter and subject have both long turned to dust, but through the painting, their memories live. "C'est pas l'éternité, ça?"

Occasionally Honigmann's interactions with her subjects are slightly difficult to watch; she seems almost to be badgering them, prompting them when perhaps they would rather be left alone. But the effect, ultimately, is to make it clear that people don't freely offer meaningful views about life and death; when an embalmer is asked what he likes about Modigliani, whose grave he is visiting, he is pushed a bit before lapsing into a long silence that he finally ends with a poignant reply.

The gorgeous shots of crumbling stone and statues that have become tarnished over time as they mourn over the departed make Forever a visual delight, but it is the people still living that make this film truly worth watching.

Forever screens tonight (Tues., Nov. 14) at 19:10 and Sat., Nov. 18 at 21:00 at Cinéma ONF, 1564, rue Saint-Denis.



omar / November 14, 2006 at 05:46 pm
Hannah / November 15, 2006 at 09:59 am
I've toured (famous) ancient graveyards in big cities, but it's intriguing that so many people form intellectual or emotional connections to long dead people they have no relation to, and they take the time to visit their graves. Fantastic story.
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