FOREVER (Heddy Honigmann, 2006)

Dutch documentarian Heddy Honigmann’s Forever wittily opens with the camera’s descent from heaven to view a patch of gravestones. The faded blue of a gravedigger’s jeans blends in with the predominant grays; but wait! An older couple, walking away from the camera, silently enters the frame. The woman is dressed in flaming red: “I am alive!” Later, there’s a black-and-white clip of Maria Callas, one of the luminaries eternally resting at Père-Lachaise, singing an aria. Perhaps we connect that enchanting voice, her (at that point) delicate, fragile face, and the red outfit of the anonymous woman whose face will forever be a mystery to us. This is a magical film.
     One of the other luminaries buried in the Paris cemetery is Georges Méliès, cinema’s original magician, whose grave is marked by an imposing statue. Now he is alive, in an amazing clip from one of his black-and-white silent films. Méliès keeps taking off his reappearing head, setting it on either of the tables flanking him. At one point there are four smiling Méliès-heads in the frame, including one on his neck, all this tweaking the sturdy dignity of the sculpted face at Père-Lachaise.
     Chopin is also buried there. Honigmann, who remains offscreen throughout the film, interviews a young Japanese pianist, Yoshino Kimura, who is rehearsing a Chopin piece for public performance. The film periodically returns to her, including, eventually, to part of the performance. Several people are interviewed throughout; these include mostly visitors to graves of both the famous and (but for the visitors) the anonymous, as well as people who work at Père-Lachaise. They clean stones, water flowers, pay respect—to a cherished father; Proust; Modigliani. Only one mourns: a woman who loved a boy with all her heart. He died from a bee-sting.
     Life.

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