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by Heddy Honigann, Director
First Run / Icarus Films, Brooklyn NY, 2006
VHS/DVD. 97 mins., col.
Sales, DVD: $440; rental/DVD: $150
Distributor’s website:

Reviewed by Roy R. Behrens
Department of Art
University of Northern Iowa

Website: www.bobolinkbooks.com


This is a thoughtful, informative film about one of the most interesting places on Earth: A centuries-old, 118-acre cemetery, the largest burial area in the City of Paris. Established by Napoleon in 1804, it is officially known as the Père Lachaise Cemetery, in homage to the Catholic priest who was confessor to King Louis XIV and who had earlier lived on the land. When the cemetery first opened, it was promoted as a site in which the famous (along with the unknown) would be eager to be buried in, and that is precisely what happened. It now houses more than 300,000 graves, including those of Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, Georges Melies, Eugene Delacroix, Frederic Chopin, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Isadora Duncan, Marcel Proust, Maria Callas, Georges Bizet, Georges Seurat and scores of other celebrities. Among its most popular "interns" is American rock musician Jim Morrison, whose tomb is so heavily visited by star-struck admirers from all over the world that it has to be constantly guarded. Along the paths and alleys in Père Lachaise, on benches and other fortuitous spots, are graffiti arrows that direct (or impishly mislead) doe-eyed devotees of "Jim" to his final resting place. If this film were only a factual account of the cemetery and its history, it wouldn’t be half as compelling. Instead, without narration, it provides us a sense of "being there," an impression of what it is probably like to wander about at Père Lachaise, observing and chatting with those who show up, including women who faithfully come to take care of the graves of their loved ones. The film’s most vivid moments are fragments of conversation with people whom the film crew encountered at this or that setting: A taxi driver in exile from Iran (but a singer at night), who regularly visits the monument of a major poet from his own country, and who, after coaxing, sings one of the poems by the poet; a young Japanese pianist, who comes to the grave of composer Frederic Chopin, whose music she plays, and whose grave is a stirring reminder of her father, who died prematurely; the hauntingly beautiful daughter (now middle-aged) of an Armenian craftsman, who for years has devotedly cared for (and talked to) her father’s resting place. But there are others who are equally interesting. This film, endless in its fascination, is comprised of astonishing insights about how people behave toward the buried remains of those they might consider as kin–even if they were never related.

(Reprinted by permission from Ballast Quarterly Review, Volume 21 Number 1, Autumn 2007.)



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