. . . How often we die in each other,
in the moist cavern of the vagina,
a death that is softer than sleep:
the senses pause, gorged. . . . — “Love—Being an Essential Word” (translation: Mark Raishbrook)
In her mid-forties, Dutch documentarian Heddy Honigmann journeyed back to South America—she was born in Lima, Peru, to immigrants whose Polish and Austrian Jewish parents fled Hitler—to make O Amor Natural, a descendant of Jean Rouch’s Chronicle of a Summer (1961). Honigmann went to Rio de Janeiro, where she asks people about Brazilian poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade, specifically, about his posthumously published erotic poetry, and asks them to read aloud this poetry and comment on it. Most are thirty or forty years older than Honigmann, that is to say, about Drummond’s age at the time of his death in 1987. This journey reflects Honigmann’s uprooted life—Israel, France, Spain and Italy are among the countries where she has lived—before she settled in the Netherlands. Sexuality, ironically, becomes the touchstone of Honigmann’s implicit inquiry into whether there is continuity to human existence and experience. Ultimately, this validation of continuity imaginatively confronts the Diaspora. None of this disputes what Honigmann has said about the way she approaches filmmaking: “I don’t make films about subjects, but about people.” On the contrary, it is her engaged DNA, at whatever level of consciousness, which freed Honigmann to respond so fully to the men and women in front of her camera. She has made a delightful film that ends sweetly and tragically. Up until now Honigmann has been an offscreen voice. Facing us, assuming the position vis-à-vis the camera that those much closer to death had occupied, she reads in its entirety Drummond’s “Love—Being an Essential Word.” It looks ahead to her eventual rest.
Those whom Honigmann interviews form a kaleidoscope of elderly Brazilian humanity; this is juxtaposed with the young, who in brief interruptions are shown dancing in the street or enjoying the beach. Occasionally Honigmann’s camera will pan to show a young person’s response to the interviewee.
A few of the interviewees are piercingly enthusiastic, and none more so than one woman who “fucked for 34 years.” “This is good fucking,” she says in response to Drummond’s line, “desire, member and vulva,” nostalgically recalling, “I wanted to fuck with all the bells and whistles.” “Enjoy [Drummond’s] words,” she tells us, “as you enjoy the whole of life.”
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