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Forever (2006)

by on 2011/02/12

This February, is grappling with love. Literally wrestling with it. Ok, maybe it is just me. I’m wrestling with love.

As part of my acting-out behaviour, I decided to select a documentary film about one of the world’s most famous cemeteries – Père-Lachaise – because it put me in mind of one of my favourite Smiths songs.

After the end credits rolled, I was shaken right down to my blackened core by this film. Painful, lyrical and intense, Forever brings us love at its most elemental.

Longing and desire comes in many forms. Heddy Honigmann, the documentary film director of Forever, gives us the stories of Père-Lachaise cemetery over a few sunny days in Paris – tales of love that are both ordinary and extraordinary.

Forever is all stillness and silence.  There is no music in the film except that which Honigmann’s camera finds. The moments she captures are so quiet you can hear wind rustling through the leaves.

It is simply Honigmann and the camera, capturing seemingly disjointed moments of despair, adoration and obsession. We learn about love, yearning and the eternity of art. Each story has its own poetry and wisdom.

Seen from a distance, a solitary girl lays a rose on composer Frédéric François Chopin’s grave. As we move closer, we learn that the girl, an accomplished pianist, plays Chopin out of love for her father, dead from overwork.

At the shining black grave of Iranian author Sadegh Hedayat, who died at the age of 48 by gassing himself in his kitchen, a man stands alone. Warily answering questions, the man speaks of Hedayat’s work and draws parallels to his own life in exile from his native Iran.

The man works as a cab driver “to live” but music and Hedayat’s prose gives his life meaning. Tentative and reserved, he is finally coaxed into singing an achingly beautiful song in Persian.

An old woman on a park bench tells Honigmann that she no longer believes in god. In the cemetery to visit her husband, dead for over a decade, she tells a story about a massacre she witnessed in Franco’s Spain where the executioner of political prisoners was a priest.

She explains that if a priest can commit such horrific acts, there is no god.

The camera pans across author Oscar Wilde’s art-deco grave, covered in hot pink, red, mauve lip prints.

A woman sets up a folding chair and reads aloud to a tombstone.

An Armenian woman cleans her father’s grave. Her father was an artist in life. She says she tells him every week the “good news and bad, and all of the beautiful things” she’s seen in museums.

She tells of an Ingres painting of a 13-year-old girl that she had trouble walking away from when she was a child. Used as Forever‘s poster,  the subject of Ingres’ work died shortly after the painting was finished.

The woman muses about eternity and offers us the wisdom, “surround yourself with beauty.”

A cemetery tour guide shares he learned to read and count as a child from the graveyard that he and his grandfather used to walk through. He shows Honigmann his favourite graves – tombs that are crumbling into disrepair that people rarely visit. They are his discoveries and in a way, his responsibility to remember the people they honour.

One is the tomb of a young girl. The stones are covered with engravings of her poetry, put there by her mother racked with grief. Another is a grave of a young singer who died in her 20s. The tour guide sought out her music – songs of loneliness and alienation sung in a frail, halting, lovely voice.

The grave of Italian painter Modigliani is occupied by the famed painter and his favourite model, a woman who threw herself out of a window in despair shortly after Modigliani died.

A visiter to Modigliani’s grave is an embalmer. He admires the famed artist’s portraits of women.

His art is reconstructing the dead for their families. We learn the man has a disorder of the tear ducts that makes him physically unable to cry. “Unfortunately we have to live with death,” he says.

A Korean man shares his love of French author Marcel Proust in halting English, and offers Proust some cookies.

Another man tells how Proust changed his entire life, inspiring him to create a series of graphic novels of Proust’s voluminous À la recherche du temps perdu.

Opera great Maria Calla’s grave is covered with ballpoint pen graffiti – words of devotion.

There is much to learn from Forever. Most of all, we learn the truth that love is stronger than death, and there is such a thing as eternity.

* * * *

97 minutes


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