The only thing Judge Daniel Kelly knows lasts forever is tertiary syphilis.
Exploring the legendary Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris, Heddy Honigmann's Forever is a brave documentary that explores the possibility that whilst peoples always die, their art and legacy can live on and provide hope for eternity.
Prior to watching Forever, I had never heard of Heddy Honigmann, the Peruvian born director who for years has been taking the European art house circuit by storm. Renowned for travelling the world in search of inspiration for her films, Honigmann eventually stumbled across the Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris, where amongst the buried sit the legendary likes of Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, Marcel Proust, and Frédéric Chopin. Forever largely explores how the work of these visionaries has brought hope and courage to a new generation of artists whilst also capturing the sense of awe and deep routed tragic beauty that has engulfed the cemetery itself.
The film sprawls out and delivers a wide picture of how very different people can all be deeply affected by the same works and the same places. The cemetery itself has been wonderfully captured by Honigmann who works hard to instill a warm yet haunting atmosphere within the environment. There is something truly gorgeous about the way the film takes the sad individuals seeking solace in the necropolis and contrasts them with the director's preference for graceful and poignant imagery within the environment. For a film clearly shot on a miniscule budget it is a testament to Honigmann that Forever is such a visual feast for the eyes.
The central stories that Honnigmann explores in her film are inextricably linked with the fact that death can give a life true purpose. Nearly all of Honigmann's keys subjects in the documentary are using the great artistic idols within the graveyard as a way to inspire them in the wake of a tragedy, whether that is the loss of a loved one, the fleeing of their culture or simply in helping battle their personal demons. The film is not so much about the famous personalities buried in the Cemetery but the way in which these giants of culture have provided work so important that they have defined lives through it. It's clear that essentially Forever is a film which feels artistic greatness not only goes beyond the grave but can also deeply impact those still alive.
Forever isn't going to work for everyone who tries to embrace its culturally diverse perspective on life and death. Honigmann's picture will simply be too stagnant and thoughtful for some whilst others will be chased away its sporadic habit of falling into sharp, short, dull patches. The film sees the lives of many people at the graveyard and some are inevitably more fascinating than others, leaving the less intriguing perspectives as filler for the 95 minutes. One suspects had Honigmann cut 10 more minutes (and a few less memorable faces) from the film it would be a more consistently engaging watch. However that's the only genuinely major criticism you could make of this otherwise impressive slice of filmmaking. Its audience will always be limited but for those able to tap into Forever it marks a highly rewarding and insightful watch.
The DVD also features a 30 minute interview with Honigmann courtesy of film critic John Anderson, which manages to provide a lot of interesting insight into the director's vision and own interpretations of the cinematic medium. To juxtapose that, however, the only other features are a limp biography and filmography, DVD extras of a bygone era. Icarus Films has presented the documentary with both scruffy visuals and audio, but it's not really a film that would benefit from a rousing Dolby Digital 5.1 track, so maybe the basic technical assets are for the best.
Not perfect, but ambitious and fresh enough to warrant a solid
recommendation. Not guilty.
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