Ars Longa, Vita Brevis; The Importance Of Art In Human Life, A Proustian Interpretation Of Honigmann’s Forever

Annelies van Noortwijk

Abstract


This article aims to present an exploration of the theme of art’s power within human life in Heddy Honigmann’s documentary film Forever (2006), which exemplifies her obsession with this topic. The film’s contemplation of art is a self-reflexive one, as it uses the medium of film to explore representation through the visual arts, music and sound, in search of the essence of art itself. By focusing on Paris’s famous Père-Lachaise cemetery and its visitors, the notion of art intermingling with life, love and death is shown at its most intense and moving. It will be argued that Marcel Proust’s monumental cycle Au Recherche du Temps Perdu (In Search of Lost Time) serves both as a model and as a kind of method for Honigmann’s approach to this central theme in Forever. She does so, not only by reflecting upon but also by putting into practice Proust’s notion of involuntary memory, which implies that sensory experiences can bring back ‘forgotten’ memories and make us experience eternity; and also by use of the petite phrase which reveals that only through repetition can the experience of a piece of art be fully comprehended or fully ‘felt’. A modern day filmic version of Proustian aesthetics aiming to achieve a truth that falls somewhere between art and reality is thus formulated. However, where Proust’s literate and philosophical writings on the importance of art in human life and its connection to the workings of our memory and emotional life are conceptual, Honigmann’s filmic reflections are concrete. The power of film, the sensual medium, lay precisely in its emotional impact, relying on images and sounds that exploit, above all, our innate as well as learned aural, visual and linguistic competences. The more abstract or conceptual meaning of Forever is thus always subordinate to the experience in which this meaning is embodied. Some specific insights from cognitive film theorists Carl Plantinga and Greg M. Smith and Damasio’s theory on human consciousness will allow me to suggest an explanation of these ideas. 


Keywords


documentary, Heddy Honigmann, forever, memory, empathy

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