One of those rare docs capable of holding its own in an official selection of fiction films, “Forever” takes viewers on a mesmerizing tour of artists’ graves in Paris’ famous Pere-Lachaise cemetery, to show that art is eternal and plays a powerful role in our lives. In one of her most accomplished and expressive works, Dutch documaker Heddy Honigmann focuses her refined sensibilities on departed greats from Chopin to Jim Morrison, Proust to Melies, each tomb prompting a curious story told by some dedicated visitor. This will be a natural for older and uptown markets with a yen for culture.
Known as a maverick artist not afraid to tackle taboo subjects, Honigmann teases out the audience’s buried emotions with carefully selected images. Though a film about a cemetery may sound macabre, and indeed will keep some viewers away, “Forever” is anything but morbid. Having no truck with death per se, it shows the peace and consolation art can bring.
Parisian Leone Desmasures is a regular visitor who tends Apollinaire’s grave, among others, as though he were a member of her family. She speaks of him as though they were on intimate terms. Chopin’s tomb inspires young pianist Yohino Kimura, who movingly explains how the music reminds her of her dead father. Illustrator Stephane Heuet, a devotee of Marcel Proust, is shown creating a graphic comic book of “Remembrance of Things Past.”
Taxi driver Reza Khoddam regularly visits the tomb of Iranian writer Sadegh Hedayat, and keeps in touch with his roots by singing Persian classical music. An art historian (Valerie Bajou) finds sustenance at the grave of Ingres. Cutaways to the everyday lives of these cemetery visitors help open up the film and reinforce the point the dead can inspire the living.
There are a few startling, even unsettling scenes, like the intense dedication with which young embalmer David Pouly is shown painting the face of a dead woman. His inspiration is the painter Modigliani. The scene, which employs a real and strikingly beautiful corpse, jumps out of the film as the only moment in which death is physically confronted.
On the light side, film buffs will delight along with two blind friends, Christoph and Bruno, as the two Simone Signoret fans screen Clouzot’s “Les Diaboliques” and comment on the soundtrack. This unexpected cutaway from the tombs of Signoret and Yves Montand underlines the film’s spirited originality.
Each of the carefully chosen subjects brings something personal and sincere to the commentary. Cinematographer Robert Alazraki’s simply framed, straight-on images create a feeling for the melancholy beauty of Pere-Lachaise. Danniel Danniel’s editing is elegance itself.