How can a film about a graveyard contain so much life? Heddy Honigmann’s exquisite new documentary, Forever, offers a roundabout tour of Père-Lachaise, the gorgeously decrepit Paris cemetery that is the final resting place of Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust, Maria Callas and scores of other artists. Though Honigmann is fascinated by these historic figures, and by the melancholy statuary and mausoleums of the place (all lovingly filmed), her real subjects are the living men and women drawn here to remember the dead.
A woman with a loose gray ponytail and homely backpack tends to the graves of Modigliani and Apollinaire, watering flowers and reciting poetry with a rumpled dignity. At Chopin’s tomb, we meet a young Japanese woman in Paris to study piano. Later we hear her play—imperfectly, but with intense feeling. Simone Signoret’s grave inspires a visit with two blind fans of the French actor, and we witness their pleasure as they sit at home listening to a DVD of Les Diaboliques. Like the best art, Forever is ultimately a meditation on the human condition and how, in the midst of grief and loss, we manage to create fragile, piercing joys.