Heddy Honigmann's quietly affecting documentary Forever casts a melancholy, knowing look at Paris' legendary Père-Lachaise cemetery, the well-trod final resting place of Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust, and Jim Morrison, among others. Driven by gentle humanism and insatiable curiosity about the infinite mysteries of the human condition, Honigmann films her subjects in unflinching long takes as they reflect on life, art, and the long, inescapable shadow of death. It's as much a celebration of the fragile beauty of life and the enduring glory of art as a meditation on death. So while it's unmistakably sad and bittersweet, it's seldom depressing.
Honigmann's subjects are eager to share their stories and their losses, unpacking cathartic, emotional monologues that transform their personal pain into public mourning. Lovely young pianist Yoshino Kimura stumbles poignantly to find the words to express her intertwined reverence for her Chopin-loving father and Chopin himself. When she performs a Chopin piece, she's clearly playing as much for her dead father as for the camera. In another graceful vignette, a middle-aged illustrator talks about how he wasn't able to appreciate Proust until he'd lived and suffered enough to understand him.
As many of the subjects talk about the writers, musicians, and icons they love, they're also talking about themselves, solidifying and expounding upon their emotional connection to the art and artists in their personal pantheon. Honigmann is ultimately concerned with how people process art and how it helps them better understand themselves and the world around them. It's filled with casual profundity: Even graffiti like "The artists are sad. Comfort them" reeks of off-handed poetry. In one particularly trenchant moment, a mourner observes that Père-Lachaise must preserve a peaceful, beautiful façade, because revealing the true nature of a cemetery would be unbearable. Without digging up a single rotting, worm-infested corpse or skeleton, Honigmann's lovely, elegant meditation nevertheless exposes haunting truths about Père-Lachaise and the visitors who fill it with such incongruous life and vivacity.