Dir: Heddy Honigmann. Neth. 2006. 95mins.
An intellectual mood piece about life and art,observed through the perspective of death, Heddy Honigmann's documentary about renowned Parisian cemetery Pere Lachaise is surprisinglyaffecting and perceptive, despite its conventional structure.
Taking a camera through oneof the most celebrated resting places in the world, and pointing it at thegraves of such names as Chopin, Proust, Modigliani,Callas, Montand and Signoret,Honigmann conjures up a creative work that is studdedwith personal reflections on each of its graveside stops.
To her credit, all thesedetours have their own individual charm, at times flying off in unexpectedangles to connect the living with the dead while always returning to the samecentral issue: the role of art in life, not only for the deceased but also for visitorsto the burial ground.
Confidently shot andexpertly edited - and somewhat lively, despite its mournful location - Forever may be restricted to art-inclinedaudiences on the fringes of exhibition but could easily become a pleasantlychallenging conversation piece among festival crowds.
Honigmann's graveyard excursion begins with the popular memorialto Jim Morrison, where she finds three elderly ladies sitting in the shadow of anold tree. One tells Honigmann how happy her husbandwas that he would be buried next to The Doors singer, less because he was a fanof 1960s rock, more that his position next to such a tourist attraction wouldensure he would never be lonely.
The camera moves betweenboth the polished tombs kept in pristine condition by devoted family or adoringfans, and the forsaken graves that only the initiated know about. En route shetalks about the dead and what they mean to the living, stopping passersbys who range from regular visitors to tourists.
Art historian Valerie Bajou faces the tomb of 19th-century painterJean-Auguste Ingres andexplains that his paintings are her family, while cemetery guide Bertrand Beyern introduces her to Elisa Mercoeur,a forgotten poet who died at the age of 36 and whose grave is now in ruins
Others have come fromfurther afield. Iranian Reza Khoddam,a taxi driver, stands next to the grave of writer and compatriot Sadegh Hedayat, who he quotes toexplain why he left his homeland ("I was tired of the people aroundme"). Yoshino Kimura, a Japanese piano student preparing for her firstrecital, repeatedly visits Chopin, hoping to get closer to the heart of themusic.
Probably the most unexpectedof all are Christoph and Bruno, two blind friends andardent Simone Signoret fans, who rent a cassette ofLes Diaboliques (the classic Clouzotversion) just to hear her voice.
Enormously helped by veterancinematographer Robert Alazraki, whose camerasensitively catches the soft light of warm sunny days, Honigmannnever pressurises her subjects, establishing a pleasant, easy-going, slightlymelancholic (inevitable, given the theme and the place) atmosphere which reignsover all the proceedings.
At one point she listensattentively to a white-haired lady, Leone Desmasures,who, while attending to Modigliani's grave, tells how one of the painter'smodels committed suicide days after he died and now lies by his side.
Remarkable use of sound onlyadds to the impact: as the camera points at the memorial to Signoretand Montand, so LeTemps De Cerises is heard.
Such respect - enhancedthrough the leisurely, measured pacing - only enhances the ending, with extremeclose-ups of Kimura playing Chopin, her face expressing her communion not onlywith the composer but also the memory of her own late father.