Alexandra’s Ways

 

A script by Anna Tchernakova

© 2004

Based on the original idea by Anna Tchernakova

Inspired by writings of Etel Adnan

 

The Script is registered with the Writers' Guild of Canada and developed with the CNC 'Aide a la Re-Ecriture' fund, France

 

Six Draft – March 2004

EXT – PARIS NOWADAYS - DAY

A grey day in Paris. The headlights of cars reflect in the wet asphalt of the streets, and cafes with their round tables behind big windows become particularly attractive to a shivering PASSER-BY...

Two figures move slowly in the crowd - one is LAILA, an elegant middle-aged woman wearing an embroidered shawl over her head and shoulders. Another, small, old, under a big black umbrella, is her AUNT.

AUNT

…Zaira, Janine, then Nayla, the niece of Mireille who has just come back from Beirut…

LAILA

(interrupting)

No, darling, because in the last twenty years every time you invite me for dinner, I am introduced to a widowed banker or a divorced lawyer...

Aunt and Laila cross a street. A gust of wind flips over their umbrella. The women stop and struggle with it in the middle of the road.

A YOUNG MAN ON A MOTOR-BIKE takes off his helmet to wipe his face. He smiles at Aunt and Laila.

Laila smiles back. Cars impatiently HONK their horns around them. The umbrella is finally conquered. Aunt pulls her away.

AUNT

You have a terrible taste in men, that's why you're alone.

LAILA

I want to be alone, darling...

Laila and Aunt continue to the pavement. They pass an EAST-EUROPEAN STREET MUSICIAN playing an accordion, an open case with very few coins in front of him. He plays with amazing skill. Aunt stops and puts a small coin in the case.

AUNT

Where do they come from? Some Bulgaria… Poor souls… We'll have troubles with them all now coming to Europe… Laila, are you listening to me?… Tell me when are you going to the Prefecture?

LAILA

Tomorrow.

Aunt pats Laila on the cheek.

AUNT

Please, Laila. Come for dinner. I'll make your favourite labneh.

Without letting Laila say anything in response, Aunt kisses her and descends into metro.

 

EXT. PARIS, STREET WITH A BOOKSTORE - evening

DROPS OF RAIN falling from the sky.

Laila looks up and wraps her embroidered shawl tighter around her head.

She runs across the street and steps under the cover of a bookstore, with stalls on the pavement protected by orange plastic roof.

One of VENDORS, A YOUNG WOMAN IN UNIFORM, comes out of the shop with more books, which she arranges on the counter.

Among the books, are a few volumes of 'world poetry series' — French translations of Akhmatova, Yeats, Haiam, Gibran…

Laila picks up a paper-back edition of poems by Khalil Gibran, opens, reads a few lines.

LAILA

(to the vendor)

Is this a new translation?

The woman puts books down and turns to Laila

VENDOR

Do you want me to check if we have others?

LAILA

No, but… In Arabic a word changes depending on the context: for example, 'aine' can be an eye or a source of water... If translated incorrectly it may completely change the meaning of that’s being said. Perhaps that's why there is so much misunderstanding in the world now...

The vendor, books in hands, waits impatiently.

VENDOR

I see. Is there anything else I can help you with?

LAILA

No, thank you. Excuse me.

She closes the book.

The NOISE OF THE CITY increases in a tidal wave, drowning Laila in its MIXTURE OF VOICES and languages, CAR HORNS and EVENING BELLS…

Behind Laila, at the entrance to a small cinema, A WORKER puts up a poster of a new film: a portrait of A YOUNG WOMAN in an old-fashioned dress. The sign on the poster reads: 'A NEW FILM FROM RUSSIA'…

In the fused chorus of voices of the crowd, one young female voice become more prominent, reading a verse in French.

V.O. ALEXANDRA

I want to visit the roses in that lonely garden where statues remember me young and I remember them under the water of the Neva...

 

INT/EXT - RUSSIAN LONG-DISTANCE TRAIN COMPARTMENT - DAY

ALEXANDRA, a pregnant woman just over twenty, with vivid and intelligent expression, is sitting on a lower berth in a compartment of a Russian long-distance train. She is reading aloud, in French.

VARYA, THE ACTRESS FROM THE POSTER, with careful make-up and a scarf around her head, is on the opposite berth, listening.

On a small Formica table between them, among four empty tea glasses in metal glass-holders, a half-open foil pack with hard-boiled eggs and a Russian newspaper, lies a BOOK OF VERSES BY ANNA AKHMATOVA and hand-written notes.

A long evening dress in a transparent plastic cover dangles behind Varya from the top berth.

The train is not moving. Behind the window, on a grey platform of a small Russian station OLDER WOMEN sell hot potatoes from big metal buckets.

ALEXANDRA (CONT)

…There, the white nights whisper about someone's impossible love. And everything is glowing like pearls and jasper but no one knows the source of the light…

Alexandra stops reading and looks at Varya.

VARYA

(in Russian)

I did not understand a word but it sounds beautiful…

 

EXT. RUSSIAN PLATFORM - DAY (CONT.)

The train shrugs. There is a commotion on the platform with PASSENGERS hurrying back inside the train.

By the entrance to the carriage aN energetic girl (NATASHA) exchanges money and potatoes with an OLD WOMAN. Natasha gets potatoes and jumps on the train, as it stutters into motion.

The old woman stops and watches the train go while putting the money in a pocket under her apron...

 

INT. RUSSIAN LONG-DISTANCE TRAIN COMPARTMENT — DAY (CONT.)

NATASHA rushes triumphantly into the compartment, hot potatoes wrapped in foil in her hands. She is dressed in vivid colours and talks too loud.

NATASHA

(in Russian, interrupting)

Life is good, girls! Our last Russian food!

Alexandra puts down the book and gets off the berth.

NATASHA (CONT'D)

(in Russian, to Alexandra)

What are you up to, Shourochka?

ALEXANDRA

(in Russian)

I'll be back.

 

INT. RUSSIAN LONG-DISTANCE TRAIN CORRIDOR - DAY (CONT.)

Alexandra walks along the corridor with the half-open sliding doors of other compartments - most empty, with rolls of old yellow striped mattresses on the upper berths, a few with PASSENGERS in tracksuit-bottoms and T-shirts dozing and playing cards…

LENA, a young woman in the typical outfit of Russian passengers on long-distance trains - T-shirt and tracksuit-bottoms - is following her three-year old son, VOVA running up and down the corridor. Vova cheerfully runs into Alexandra. Alexandra turns away to protect her stomach, then bends to Vova and tickles him. Vova giggles.

LENA

(in Russian)

Careful, Vova, the lady has a baby in her tummy!

Vova, intrigued, looks at Alexandra's tummy and hides behind Lena.

ALEXANDRA

(in Russian, to Lena)

Hot potatoes have just arrived…

Alexandra continues along the corridor.

 

INT. RUSSIAN LONG-DISTANCE TRAIN TOILET - DAY (CONT.)

Alexandra opens the toilet door: the floor is flooded. She doesn't enter and closes the door.

 

INT. RUSSIAN LONG-DISTANCE TRAIN corridor - DAY (CONT.)

The TRAIN ATTENDANT, an older slightly bloated man with a gloomy face, exits his compartment hands full of empty tea-glasses.

ALEXANDRA

(in Russian)

It's all wet in the toilet. Could you do something?

TRAIN ATTENDANT

(in Russian)

Just step over it. I can't cut myself in two to take care of everything.

He moves Alexandra aside and walks to the opposite end of the carriage. Alexandra sighs. She looks around and notices a bucket and a mop. She takes them.

 

INT. RUSSIAN LONG-DISTANCE TRAIN TOILET - DAY (CONT.)

Alexandra mops the toilet floor, then comes inside and washes her hands.

She pushes down the window and looks outside. The wind blows away her hair. She closes her eyes and smiles.

 

INT. RUSSIAN LONG-DISTANCE TRAIN COMPARTEMENT - EVENING

The train speeds up. The outside air has already become blue, misty, giving the way to approaching evening.

Natasha is distributing paper plates with hot potatoes sprinkled with crushed dill-weed. Varya and Lena are on the berth, Lena holding Vova. Alexandra perches nearby.

Natasha passes the plates to Varya and Lena, then prepares one for Alexandra.

NATASHA

(to Varya)

I envy you so much, Varvara Leonidovna! Posters all around Moscow, a dress from Zaitzev and a premiere in Paris! And the film, the film is so good, I couldn't stop crying. I bet you have piles of men all around you. I wanted to be an actress myself but ended up a masseuse instead... However, I don't despair. I wrote to my German in my very first letter: I need a house with a swimming pool - and love till the grave.

LENA

(in Russian, ironically)

What else do we need to be happy!

Natasha is slightly offended by Lena's irony.

NATASHA

(in Russian)

There is nothing special about pools. They all have them there, in Germany.

LENA

(in Russian)

And they all have them in Zavidovo…

NATASHA

(in Russian)

I don't want to have anything to do with those crooks!

Varya turns to the window, silently disapproving. Alexandra notices it.

ALEXANDRA

(in Russian)

Look, it's already Poland…

The train is now speeding up passing a small station with a Polish name. Natasha waves her arms in excitement.

NATASHA

(in Russian)

Europe, girls! Even the air is different here!…

She turns away from the window and puts more potatoes on Alexandra's plate.

NATASHA (CONT'D)

(in Russian)

Where did you say your father lives?

Lena hushes slightly pointing at Vova who has fallen asleep in her lap. The passing lights of small stations illuminate women's faces.

ALEXANDRA

(in Russian, softly)

Hanover.

NATASHA

(in Russian)

Is he Jewish? Nowadays only Jews can immigrate to Germany like this.

LENA

(in Russian)

It's none of your business, Natasha!

NATASHA

(in Russian, making amends)

I mean… that's good, the baby will grow up a German and won't have our problems...

LENA

(in Russian)

Or at least will have a choice.

She looks at the sleeping Vova and holds him closer. The boy's face is calm and clear. The outside lights pass over it without disturbing.

NATASHA

(in Russian)

You, Shourochka, and you, Lenochka, are so brave!... Who knows, you might still meet a good man to marry... a foreigner…

 

EXT - STREETS OF PARIS - EVENING

Laila stops near a big brightly-lit merry-go-round: jumping horses and carriages slowly turning, empty.

TWO AFRICAN CHILDREN, a BOY of about ten and a little GIRL, are standing in front of it.

THEIR MOTHER, a hefty woman wearing a long brightly-coloured skirt, is in a phone booth, talking. Several shopping bags are resting by her feet.

Laila looks at the children, who seem to be mesmerized by the merry-go-around.

LAILA

(to children)

Isn't it beautiful?

The girl nods. The boy looks at Laila, distrustful.

LAILA (CONT'D)

(to children)

Would you like a ride?

BOY

We don't have money.

LAILA

I'll pay for you.

…The mother, still in the telephone booth, notices THE MERRY-GO-AROUND OWNER helping children to get on the horses. She abruptly finishes her call and dashes out.

MOTHER

(to children)

Get down! I told you no ride!...

LAILA

(interrupting her)

Let them enjoy it. It's my treat.

The mother turns around.

MOTHER

Yours? Why? I don’t agree!

(to the merry-go-around owner)

Take them down!

LAILA

They really wanted to have a ride.

MOTHER

(annoyed)

So what? Children always want something, so if one listens to them… I don't tell you how to bring up your children, do I?...

Laila's smile fades.

mother

…So leave mine alone!

LAILA

Excuse me.

She turns around awkwardly and walks away. The merry-go-round turns faster and faster...

 

INT. RUSSIAN LONG-DISTANCE TRAIN, corridor - NIGHT

...becoming the lights of approaching Hanover. The train passes by the outskirts of the city.

Varya is resting on the top berth. Vova is asleep on Lena's lap.

Natasha and Alexandra are in the corridor. Alexandra is wearing a big buttoned up coat, which almost disguises her pregnancy.

NATASHA

(in Russian, looking out the window)

Dear girls, we are almost there! What's happening with me, I have goose bumps!…  My German man is surely already on the station. He wrote to me that he likes everything being exactly on time…

 

INT. RUSSIAN LONG-DISTANCE TRAIN, compartment - NIGHT

Natasha dashes to the compartment, finds her bag, opens it and takes out two blouses. As she starts speaking, rather loudly, Lena makes a 'hush' gesture, pointing to Vova who is still asleep, in spite of the movement around him. Natasha continues in a whisper. She shows her blouses to Varya.

NATASHA (CONT'D)

(in Russian)

Varvara Leonidovna, dear, tell me which to wear: this one, open-neck, 'Channel', or this one, pink and alluring?

Alexandra enters the compartment to take her bags. Lena moves along the berth, turning the sleeping Vova around so that she can hold him in her arms.

ALEXANDRA

(in Russian)

I am off.

LENA

(in Russian)

Good luck.

VARYA

(in Russian)

Take care of yourself, Alexandra.

Natasha in her 'alluring' blouse gives her make up a final touch-up.

NATASHA

(in Russian)

Shourochka I can't kiss you I've already put lipstick on…

 

EXT. CENTRAL STATION IN HANOVER - NIGHT

A VOICE IN GERMAN on the loudspeakers announces the late arrival of a train from Moscow. It seems that the platforms are almost deserted, except for A SMALL MAN in his early sixties wearing glasses, a cap and a worn shoulder bag. It's GARIK, Alexandra's father. He scuttles towards the train from the opposite side of the platform and walks along as it stops, anxiously looking in the windows.

On his way he almost bumps into a BEER-LOVING GERMAN MAN with a hand-written sign 'Natasha' also walking along the train but in the opposite direction!

ALEXANDRA

(off-screen)

Papa!

At the sound of his name, Garik turns round.

The train attendant lowers the step. He jumps onto the platform and helps Alexandra and her bags down, right into Garik's arms.

 

INT. CENTRAL STATION IN HANOVER, CAFETERIA - NIGHT

A 24-hour clinically clean, empty station cafeteria. A CASHIER is half-asleep behind the counter.

Garik puts Alexandra's bags by one of the tables.

ALEXANDRA

(in Russian)

I thought you lived very near Hanover.

GARIK

(in Russian)

I do but there are no trains there till morning. Coffee?

ALEXANDRA

(in Russian)

Dad, I can't have coffee.

GARIK

(in Russian)

Of course, of course, honey-pie, I wasn't thinking... Hungry?

ALEXANDRA

(in Russian)

No, it's fine, I'll wait.

GARIK

(in Russian)

It's not every day that my daughter comes for a visit!…

Alexandra watches Garik go to the counter. Garik puts on his glasses and carefully checks the available selection of snacks and their prices. He says something to the cashier. The cashier doesn't seem to understand. Garik repeats and points to the display.

He takes two cups and a bottle of water from the display fridge and returns to the table.

GARIK (CONT'D)

(in Russian)

...don't worry about me, I'm on a special diet... Imagine, I was very ill recently... My intestines again, but this time I was really poorly… Are you hanging on, honey-pie? I remember your mum was nauseous till her fourth month, and then it stopped all of a sudden. Here, have some water…

Garik pours Alexandra a glass of water but then, as he speaks, absentmindedly drinks it himself.

GARIK (CONT'D)

(in Russian)

You struck me dumb, honey-pie, I should tell you. Why didn't you write in advance?!

ALEXANDRA

(in Russian)

I was not sure I would keep it.

GARIK

(in Russian)

I haven't seen you for a long time. You look well...

He pats her on the hand.

GARIK

(in Russian)

How's your work? Found a publisher?

ALEXANDRA

(in Russian)

Not yet...

GARIK

(in Russian)

Good, good... You see, there are a couple of things we should talk about straight away... First… I have a relationship...

Alexandra nods ironically.

ALEXANDRA

(in Russian)

... with a young, intelligent woman, right?…

GARIK

(in Russian, apologetically)

No, rather… a young man.

ALEXANDRA

(in Russian, cannot believe it)

Dad, are you mad?!

GARIK

(in Russian)

Well, honey-pie, anything can happen in the twilight of one's life… Don't tell mum, agreed?… You'll like him, he is a Philosophy student, we're writing a book together…

Garik pours himself more water. He takes out a small container with pills, shakes one out onto his palm, swallows and washes it down with water.

GARIK (CONT'D)

(in Russian)

I need to take care of myself, you know…

ALEXANDRA

(in Russian)

What are the other things you want to tell me?

GARIK

(in Russian)

You know, honey-pie, I… Well, you are a big girl now… You see, I live on welfare. My apartment is tiny, council pays for it. It doesn't matter, we'd figure out something, but… I won't be able to pay for you in the hospital, you see. What if you looked around, decided how you like it… and came back with all the proper documents later?.. I will apply for you, I promise. It takes time, seven-nine months perhaps but then you'd have a work permit, free medical care, social help… What do you think? Back home, mum by your side, I know you argue you two but it'll be easier with a baby, ah?... Wait, I think it’s ready…

Garik readily dashes to the counter where the cashier has now put the hot dish.

Alexandra remains at the table watching Garik's exchange with the waiter. It appears that the dish is not what Garik has ordered. Garik gives up, takes the plate and returns to the table.

He puts the food in front of Alexandra.

GARIK (CONT'D)

(in Russian)

Eat… May I ask you, your… how to call him… the man of your choice… he doesn't help you at all, does he? Who is he, if it's not a secret? Do I know him?

ALEXANDRA

(in Russian)

He's not a part of the equation, dad...

Garik is sadly silent, wiping his glasses.

ALEXANDRA (CONT'D)

(in Russian)

You should have told me on the phone that I should not come.

GARIK

(in Russian, weakly protests)

No, honey-pie, it's not like that at all. I am glad you're having a baby. Just that it's a little bit unexpected… Eat...

ALEXANDRA

(Russian)

I am not hungry.

Alexandra pushes the plate away. A German voice on the loudspeakers announces the departure of a train to Cologne.

ALEXANDRA (CONT'D)

(in Russian)

I won't stay, don't worry.

A different voice on the loudspeakers, in French, repeats the announcement that the train to Paris via Cologne will depart in ten minutes. Alexandra gets up and puts on her coat.

ALEXANDRA (CONT'D)

(in Russian, having made a decision)

I've never been to Paris. It's not far, is it? Let's go...

GARIK

(in Russian)

Paris?

 

EXT- CENTRAL STATION IN HANNOVER, PLATFORMS - night

It's dark, wet and cold. PEOPLE ON THE PLATFORM are huddled up in their coats, waiting for the train to arrive.

GARIK

(in Russian)

Why Paris, honey-pie?! What are you going to do there?!...

Alexandra doesn't respond.

Behind Garik and Alexandra some PEOPLE SPEAK RUSSIAN. Garik turns around to glance at the crowd.

GARIK (CONT'D)

(in Russian)

Russian people get under way - Yaroslavl, Hanover… Are you angry with me? Please take some money for the journey.

He opens out his wallet.

GARIK (CONT'D)

(in Russian)

The other day I was paid for some translations…

ALEXANDRA

(in Russian, firmly)

I don't need it, dad.

The train arrives, stops, brakes squeaking. Doors open. PEOPLE start to get on the train.

Alexandra takes her bag and moves towards the door. She gets in, then remembers something and steps back onto the platform.

ALEXANDRA (CONT'D)

(in Russian)

Almost forgot…

She opens the bag and gets out a bottle of vodka, a few Russian magazines and a hand-knitted sweater and socks.

ALEXANDRA (CONT'D)

(in Russian)

For you… Mum made them, she said you were always cold.

GARIK

(in Russian)

May be you'll stay, honey-pie?... What if something happens....

Alexandra doesn't respond. She closes the bag. Garik, his hands full of presents, helplessly watch her get on the train.

GARIK (CONT'D)

(in Russian)

Don't think badly of me… Let me know how you… manage.

 

int – corridor of a train for paris - night

Alexandra walks along the carriage, looking for a free seat. A FELLOW PASSENGER helps her with her bags.

Outside, Garik approaches the window.

The WHISTLE is blown and the train starts moving, slowly increasing speed. Alexandra looks at the small figure of her father.

Garik walks along the train, then as its speed increases, he stops and turns away…

EXT - AUNT'S APARTMENT - EVENING

An imposing 19-century apartment building. Laila presses the button of an entry-phone at the front door. She is holding an open box with small Lebanese cakes and baklava.

V.O.AUNT

Yes?

LAILA

It's me, darling. Have you made the labneh you promised? Because if not, I won't come in.

Aunt buzzes the door open.

 

INT - AUNT'S APARTMENT, STAIRS - EVENING

As Laila exits the lift, Aunt is already waiting for her at the open door. Voices are heard coming from the depth of the apartment behind her.

LAILA

I brought something for dessert... Is Nayla already here?...

She hands to Aunt the box with cakes. They enter the apartment.

INT — AUNT'S APARTMENT, CORRIDOR - EVENING

Laila unwraps her shawl. Aunt looks critically at Laila's dress, her face devoid of make-up...

AUNT

Come with me for a moment.

 

INT — AUNT'S APARTMENT, BEDROOM - EVENING

She ushers Laila into a bedroom. There she opens a wardrobe and takes out a few bright blouses on hangers. She tries them one by one holding close to Laila's face.

AUNT

(having decided)

Put this on...

LAILA

Why?

Aunt ignores Laila's question. She digs in her box with jewellery and takes out a necklace and ear-rings.

AUNT

This should go well with the blouse... Do you have a lipstick?

Resentful, Laila however starts to change.

LAILA

(with slight suspicion)

Why am I doing it, darling? You said there would be no bankers nor lawyers...

AUNT

You are a woman, Laila, you should always take care of yourself...

As Laila freshens her make-up, in the silence, they hear voices coming from the living room. Most prominent is a male voice (FRENCH PROFESSOR).

V.O. FRENCH PROFESSOR

...concept of social loyalty as self-annihilation, and the phenomenon of self-affirmation via self-deceit, typical for any Arab culture. I know it very well because when I was very young I was in love with a very beautiful Lebanese woman. I was prepared to marry her, however, the pressure of social expectations back in Lebanon where such that she renounced our love and went back to Beirut to marry a man, a complete stranger, who was the choice of her parents.  It was in 1974, just before the war. Tragically few years later I heard that all family was killed...

LAILA

Who is that?

AUNT

(whispering)

Hush!!! It's a friend of Janine's husband, a university professor. He is a very nice man, darling, and handsome, too, brought a bottle of Dom Perignon, real class!...

LAILA

Where's his wife?

AUNT

(whispering)

He doesn't have one...

Laila takes off Aunt's blouse, changing back into her own clothes.

LAILA

I am not going in.

AUNT

(whispering)

You can't leave now!

LAILA

Indeed I will! I've told you before to stop presenting me to various clods! You promised!

AUNT

(whispering)

Laila, you're not young anymore so you should not be too picky. You need a husband before it's too late.

LAILA

(loudly)

Consider it too late, darling.

She wraps her shawl around and walks out of Aunt's apartment, slamming the door behind her.

 

INT — AUNT'S APARTMENT, STAIRS - NIGHT

As Laila waits for the lift she hears voices in Aunt's apartment, behind the closed door.

FEMALE VOICE

I heard the door, is it Laila?

V.O. AUNT

(explaining)

No, it was a delivery for the neighbours…

 

EXT - STREETS OF PARIS - NIGHT

Laila walks along a narrow street, poorly lit street in an Arab neighbourhood, starkly different from the bourgeois surroundings of her aunt's house.

She looks at the faces of people she passes.

One of the last few late-night shops is closing, an ARAB OWNER is pulling down and locking the iron curtain…

TWO ARAB MEN are standing in front of a cafe, smoking…

A VENDOR is cleaning the counter in a Chinese cafeteria…

Several WRAPPED BODIES of sleeping hobos loom on the steps of a church…

Laila finds herself at the end of the street, facing a railway station across a square. She crosses the road towards the station.

 

INT. RAILWAY STATION - NIGHT

Laila walks across a huge empty hall at the further end of which a WORKER moves back and forth on top of an automated cleaning machine.

 

EXT. RAILWAY STATION - NIGHT (CONT)

Outside, the platforms are foggy and deserted except for a SMALL GROUP OF PEOPLE under the 'arrival' table announcing the arrival of a delayed train from Germany.

As Laila walks along the platform, the train appears from the fog, pulls its body into the station and heavily stops.

Silenced by the fog, PASSENGERS descend from the train and walk towards the station.

Laila looks at the people passing by her: THOSE WHO ARE BEING MET, and greeted, hugged and kissed… THOSE WHO WALK HURRIEDLY AND BUSINESS-LIKE ALONE… THOSE WHO WALK SLOWLY DRAGGING THEIR LUGGAGE BEHIND...

Among the passengers is ALEXANDRA.

Laila looks at her. Alexandra passes Laila and disappears inside the station.

 

INT - HOTEL IN PARIS, LOBBY - NIGHT

A small foyer of a very modest hotel with stairs winding up. Threadbare carpets, faded wall-paper, pictures of Paris in cheap frames…

Alexandra is talking to the OWNER, a middle-aged Algerian.

OWNER

…That's the best price I can give you. You need to pay in advance…

Alexandra nods.

OWNER (CONT'D)

Your passport please.

Alexandra hands him her passport. He fills in the form.

OWNER (CONT'D)

The showers and toilets are by the stairs. Showers are five euro.

ALEXANDRA

How much are the toilets?

OWNER

The toilets are on the house...

 

INT/EXT - HOTEL IN PARIS, ROOM - NIGHT

Alexandra enters her room. She puts her bags on the floor, switches on the light.

The room is small but tidy. Its walls are covered with old floral wall-paper. In a corner there is a small sink.

Alexandra opens the window, letting in fresh cold air and the noise of the street.

She unzips one of her bags, takes out a notebook, a Russian paperback of Benjamin Spock's 'My Baby' and the edition of Akhmatova. In a pocket of her bag she finds a portable water heater, left-overs of bread wrapped in foil and a few loose tea bags…

…With a glass of a freshly-made tea Alexandra is standing by the open window. People pass by, cars turn round the corner, and A COUPLE runs across the street laughing…

 

EXT. PARIS, STREET, NEWS STAND – MORNING

Early hour, grey but clear. A NEWSVENDOR in a raincoat spreads semi-transparent plastic over the sides of the kiosk to protect newspapers.

THE HEADLINES and PHOTOGRAPHS describe a new suicide attack in Iraq.

 

INT. PARIS, LAILA'S APARTMENT, kitchen – MORNING

In her kitchen, Laila, in a dressing gown, opens the window. A bunch of pigeons noisily take off and fly away.

Drinking coffee, Laila looks through the new mail. She opens an officially looking letter, scans it, puts aside.

She tops up her cup and takes the Gibran book lying on the counter when somebody knocks at the door.

 

INT. PARIS, LAILA'S APARTMENT, corridor  – MORNING

Laila opens the door. Aunt, all dressed and made-up, as if she is going to a Sunday mass, steps into the apartment.

LAILA

What are you doing here?

AUNT

We are going to the Prefecture this morning, you forgot?…

LAILA

I haven't had my breakfast yet!

AUNT

No time for this, Laila!

She critically looks at her.

AUNT (CONT'D)

Go comb your hair and dress. You need to look like a respectful French lady with means…

 

INT – PARIS, HOTEL LOBBY - MORNING

Dressed to go outside, Alexandra comes down the steps and stops by the counter.

The unshaved hotel owner appears from the back room, chewing on something. In the daylight and he, and the lobby look even shoddier.

OWNER

Leaving?

ALEXANDRA

No. I'll pay for another night.

OWNER

(surprised)

I'll have a room with a toilet available later today but it costs a bit more…

ALEXANDRA

No thanks, I'm fine.

 

EXT – PARIS, STREET NEAR HOTEL – MORNING

Alexandra steps out of the hotel and looks around.

There is a newsstand on the opposite corner of the street. Alexandra walks to it.

A newspaper vendor, KOREAN WOMAN, emerges from under the newspapers.

ALEXANDRA

Do you have 'Russian Thought'?

KOREAN WOMAN

What?

ALEXANDRA

A Russian newspaper published in Paris, called 'Russian Thought'?

The Korean woman shakes her head and shrugs her shoulders.

ALEXANDRA

Do you know how to get to Faubourg St. Honor»?

KOREAN WOMAN

Don’t know.

ALEXANDRA

Do you have a map of Paris?

The Korean woman gets a map and hands it to Alexandra.

KOREAN WOMAN

Three fifty.

 

INT - PARIS, LAILA'S APARTEMENT - MORNING (CONT.)

Laila emerges from the bedroom, changed into an embroidered dress.

Aunt puts down the Gibran book she has been studying.

AUNT

Don't you feel better! It is important, all these small details! Now let’s go. Do you have all the documents you need?

 

int. paris, laila’s apartment, bedroom – morning (cont.)

Laila opens a drawer, takes out a big brown envelope and shakes its contents on the bed. She hastily checks the documents and puts them back in the envelope…

 

int. paris, laila’s apartment, corridor – morning (cont.)

Laila comes back to Aunt with the envelope. Aunt nods, reassured.

 

INT. PARIS, LAILA'S APARTMENT STAIRS — DAY (CONT.)

Laila locks the apartment. She opens the lift door for Aunt.

AUNT

Now tell me do you feel ashamed of your behaviour last night?

Laila closes the lift door from the outside.

The cabin with Aunt starts descending. Laila walks down the stairs following the lift, Aunt continuing talking from inside.

V.O. AUNT

I had to invent all kinds of excuses to explain why you didn't come for dinner... What do you want me to say when people ask me why you live alone? I am old, you know, I won't be around forever to take care of you when you are in need…

Laila is listening, silent, slowly walking down the steps.

 

EXT. PARIS, faubourg sainte-honore, OFFICE OF "RUSSIAN THOUGHT" – DAY

Alexandra walks along the street, looking at the street addresses.

She turns under an arch, walks across a paved yard and stops by a door with a plate saying: "Russian Thought", 1st floor'

 

INT. PARIS, OFFICE OF  "RUSSIAN THOUGHT" - DAY

A big apartment transformed into a publishing house. Cigarette smoke is suspended in the air, making the apartment look like a ghost house.

A small nook of the corridor serves as a reception. An older, distinguished looking woman, BARONESS, laboriously types on an ancient typewriter.

A SKINNY WOMAN IN JEANS smoking a cigarette is standing by a long table in the middle of the room, beside a palm in a big porcelain pot with blue Russian folk ornaments.  She is paging a collection of old yellow newspapers.

As Alexandra enters the room, the women stop what they are doing and look at her.

ALEXANDRA

(in Russian)

Good morning.

The women nod in response. Alexandra chooses Baroness as the one to speak to.

ALEXANDRA (CONT'D)

(in Russian)

My name is Alexandra Golubeva, from Moscow...

Alexandra pauses. Baroness looks puzzled.

ALEXANDRA (CONT'D)

(in Russian)

You published my article about translating Akhmatova...few months ago...

Baroness clearly doesn't remember anything about the article but she nods and smiles.

BARONESS

(in Russian)

Of course, dear girl, very nice to meet you in person…

At this moment the front door slams and a dishevelled man (PETR SERGEEVICH) with two old cardboard suitcases appears in the room. He drops the suitcases on the floor, blows his nose and grins widely.

PETR SERGEEVICH

(in Russian, loudly)

Here I am! The place is not bad, but a bit dirty. But don't worry. So when do you finish work?

SKINNY WOMAN

(in Russian)

How can we help you?

Petr Sergeevich approaches the woman and shakes her hand.

PETR SERGEEVICH

(in Russian, joyfully laughs)

I am Petr Sergeevich, a dog breeder from Khabarovsk. Don't worry, I don't need money, just to stay overnight... The French, bastards, did not let us in the hotel...

He looks around.

PETR SERGEEVICH (CONT'D)

(in Russian)

We'll move the table against the wall and fix a place on the floor… under the palm-tree, like 'Negresco', you've been there?

One of the suitcases starts barking. Petr Sergeevich kicks it. The barking continues.

PETR SERGEEVICH (CONT'D)

(in Russian)

She is as tired as I am… Come here, my dear girl…

He opens the suitcase and takes out a little shivering DOG (KASHTANKA), as dishevelled as himself. The dog struggles to get down. Petr Sergeevich puts the dog on the floor and the dog runs towards the palm tree.

PETR SERGEEVICH (CONT'D)

(in Russian)

Kashtanka, catch!

Baroness gets up from the table. The dog, frightened, runs towards Petr Sergeevich.

BARONESS

(in Russian)

My dear, you can't stay here - a policeman drops by every night to check the place.

Petr looks discouraged. He picks up the dog and clutches it to his chest.

PETR SERGEEVICH

(in Russian)

Buy the dog, then! I'll do a good price, five hundred, a? She can do tricks!

BARONESS

(to someone in the corridor)

Leonid!

The dog whines.

PETR SERGEEVICH

(in Russian)

Four hundred! She's still young, she can have puppies... Rare breed!

BARONESS

(shouts)

Leonid!

An older man with a beard, EARL OSTROGUIN, appears from the corridor.

BARONESS (CONT'D)

(to Ostroguin)

Help!... This gentleman doesn't have a place to stay...

PETR SERGEEVICH

(in Russian, to Ostroguin)

Two hundred! She sings to the piano!…

Ostroguin picks up Petr's suitcases.

OSTROGUIN

(in Russian)

Don't worry, we'll think of something…

Holding the dog Petr follows Ostroguin to the corridor. Their VOICES and the DOG'S WHINING are heard for some time during the following scene.

Baroness takes off her glasses and looks at Alexandra.

BARONESS (CONT'D)

(in Russian)

Please sit down… Do you have a place to stay?

ALEXANDRA

(in Russian)

I am in a hotel.

BARONESS

(in Russian)

Not by yourself I hope?

Alexandra shakes her head. Baroness and the skinny woman exchange looks.

ALEXANDRA

(in Russian)

I thought I'd be able to find work… To do something for you… I can also clean… or baby-sit… teach Russian…

BARONESS

(in Russian)

Well, dear child, there are so many of you…

(she notices Alexandra's face and stops herself)

…Of course, we can always publish an ad, free of charge...

SKINNY WOMAN

(in Russian, interfering)

Wait, Margarita Ivanovna.

(to Alexandra)

Listen, don't waste time. You need to apply for a refugee status… invent something, it will take a few months for them to access the case, by that time the baby will be born! Meanwhile you'll have some money and a medical insurance…

BARONESS

(in Russian)

You see, our Irochka knows everything!

Irochka decisively unwraps a sandwich and puts it in front of Alexandra.

SKINNY WOMAN

(in Russian)

Eat. I'll explain how to get to the Prefecture…

 

INT. PARIS, OFFICE OF  "RUSSIAN THOUGHT", entrance – DAY

As Baroness opens the door to let Alexandra out, they see Ostroguin who is giving a bowl of milk to the shivering Kashtanka. Petr Sergeevich is gone.

BARONESS

(in Russian)

What's this, Leonid?!

OSTROGUIN

(in Russian, guiltily)

Oh, it's fine… she is a good dog… otherwise he'd have dumped her on the street...

Baroness sighs.

 

EXT - PARIS, PREFECTURE

Under a monotonous grey rain, a long queue of PEOPLE waits behind barriers near the imposing building of Parisian Prefecture.

THOSE AT THE BEGINNING have been there since early in the morning, and now they are putting away their blankets, folding chairs, sharing a thermos with hot drink...

Laila and Aunt with her black umbrella walk towards the entrance.

LAILA

It's a long queue.

AUNT

No, this is for refugees. Poor things!...

Aunt closes her umbrella and steers Laila to the other side of the barriers, directly to the entrance.

An armed GUARD, a policewoman with short hair, stops them.

GUARD

Can I help you?

AUNT

Where should we go for the renewal of residential visa?

GUARD

You need to join the queue and wait like everyone else.

Muttering Aunt and ironically smiling Laila walk to the tail of the queue.

They join the queue behind Alexandra, who is eating an apple and reading her Akhmatova book. Aunt angrily reopens the umbrella.

AUNT

It never stops raining in this city.

LAILA

It's good for their agriculture, darling...

AUNT

I have to make a call, Laila. I'll be right back.

LAILA

You don't need to wait with me, you know...

AUNT

But I will, Laila!

Aunt waddles away, to the public phones at the metro entrance.

The clock strikes an hour. The guard moves away the barrier blocking the queue from the entrance door and counts first ten people in the queue. She lets them in.

The queue slightly moves forward. Alexandra turns pages, shuffling uncomfortably from foot to foot.

Laila looks at her.

Alexandra feels the gaze and raises her eyes from the book. Laila smiles compassionately. Alexandra smiles back.

LAILA

(to Alexandra)

Would you like to go and have a rest on a bench - we'll keep your place for you?...

Laila gently points to Alexandra’s stomach.

LAILA

…How much time do you still have to go?

ALEXANDRA

About two months.

Alexandra closes the book and hesitantly starts towards the bench.

GUARD

(loudly)

Those doing preliminary applications for political asylum, preliminary applications only, come forward!

Alexandra turns around.

ALEXANDRA

(to Laila)

It's me…

She hurries towards the head of the queue.

Aunt reappears near Laila.

AUNT

Who's that?

LAILA

I don’t know.

Aunt looks at Laila with attention.

A DOZEN or so people including Alexandra gather by the guard.

GUARD

Only five more can be accepted today. The rest…

Alexandra moves forward but so does everyone else. There is a commotion. A desperate MIDDLE-AGE MAN forcefully makes his way to the front.

MIDDLE-AGE REFUGEE

(shouting)

I am here three days! I sleep here three nights!

Caught inside the crowd Alexandra tries to get out. She is pushed away, stumbles and falls backwards on the pavement.

Laila gasps and runs to Alexandra, who struggles to sit up.

LAILA

Wait! Don't move! You can’t risk your baby!

Alexandra looks at her, surprised.

The guard stops the queue and make her way to Alexandra and Laila.

GUARD

Are you a doctor?

LAILA

No. She is pregnant, she needs to be checked!

GUARD

Calm down, madam. I understand. I'll call SAMU.

 

EXT - PARIS, PREFECTURE - DAY (CONT.)

…The ambulance is parked by the pavement near the queue who is cautiously indifferent.

Alexandra is lying on a stretcher. The DOCTOR holds an oxygen mask to Alexandra's face. Laila sits by the stretcher, her shawl covering Alexandra's shoulders. Reluctant Aunt keeps an open umbrella above their heads.

ALEXANDRA

(to Laila)

You should go, you'll miss your turn…

The NURSE removes the shawl and wraps Alexandra in a blanket. She and the DRIVER lift the stretcher off the ground.

LAILA

(to the nurse)

Which hospital are you taking her to?

NURSE

(to Laila)

Hotel-Dieux. Are you a relative?…

LAILA

No.

The nurse turns away from Laila.

Alexandra on a stretcher disappears inside the ambulance. The doors close. The ambulance drives off.

Laila notices Alexandra's book lying forgotten on the ground. She picks it up.

Someone touches Laila's shoulder. Laila looks up to see Aunt.

LAILA (CONT'D)

She lost her book.

AUNT

(interrupting)

Later, Laila. Now we must hurry. It's our turn.

 

INT - PARIS, PREFECTURE - DAY

A big sombre hall with a couple of counters separated from the main space by bullet-proof glass. There are PEOPLE waiting for their numbers to be called. It's noisy and suffocating.

The SOUND OF YOUNG CHILD CRYING accompanies the scene.

Laila and Aunt are sitting by a counter. A CLERK, an UNSMILING MIDDLE-AGED WOMAN, is looking through Laila's papers. Laila is holding an empty brown envelope and Aunt is anxiously following the clerk's movements.

CLERK

We sent you a reminder…

LAILA

Yes, I am sorry, I...

CLERK

You left it very late, madam... Passport…  Proof of residence…  Do you have any dependants?

LAILA

No.

CLERK

Has your family status changed since the last permit?

LAILA

No.

CLERK

I need the originals of the death certificates, both for your husband and children.

LAILA

I submitted them last time.

CLERK

It doesn't matter, madam. They are on the list of required documents. Do you have the list?

AUNT

(interfering)

Madam, they died twenty years ago!

The clerk closes the folder and gives the documents back to Laila.

CLERK

I regret but we can't consider an incomplete file.

Laila gets up, her lips trembling.

LAILA

Your ministry had already received these papers twice! Why can't you attach the copies from my previous file?

CLERK

Don't tell me how to do my job, madam.

Laila busts out of the hall.

AUNT

(to Laila, in Arabic)

Laila stop! Wait!

(to the clerk)

I am so sorry, madam, we appreciate very much your help… She is upset because these papers remind her about her loss… I am sure you understand…

The clerk slightly softens.

CLERK

Unfortunately I can't help. And you, Madam? I have not seen your papers...

AUNT

Oh no I don't need anything, I am French.

Aunt gets up. A MIDDLE-AGE UKRAINIAN WOMAN and HER TEEN-AGER SON sit down on Laila's and Aunt's places.

 

EXT - PARIS, PREFECTURE, INNER YARD AND EXIT - DAY

Laila waits by the exit, under the questioning gazes TWO POLICEMEN  patrolling the yard. Aunt appears on the threshold, opens her umbrella.

AUNT

You've been living here for twenty years, why don't you take citizenship? You'd have no problems of this kind... You must find these papers, Laila. I'll go with you...

 

INT - PARIS, HOSPITAL, EMERGENCY WARD, CUBICLE - DAY

An ultrasound image of a seven-month old foetus. It moves its limbs. We can see a toe, an arm, a profile with a turned up nose... The sensor moves, finally losing the image... Alexandra watches with intensity.

A DOCTOR-ON-DUTY puts a completed scan form on top of Alexandra's clothes and backpack, piled on a chair.

Alexandra sits up on a bed in a cubicle separated by a curtain from the rest of the ward.

DOCTOR-ON-DUTY

(as he exits, without looking at Alexandra)

Get dressed and take your papers to the nurse.

He draws the curtain behind him.

 

INT - PARIS, HOSPITAL, EMERGENCY WARD, RECEPTION - DAY

Still in a hospital gown, Alexandra stops by the counter with A HOSPITAL NURSE, a middle-aged Chinese woman with a dry hostile manner. Alexandra puts the scan form on the counter. The nurse takes it and starts filling in Alexandra's forms.

NURSE

(with an accent)

Do you have refugee status?

ALEXANDRA

No.

NURSE

Do you have a letter from Social Aid?

ALEXANDRA

No.

The nurse raises her eyes from the papers and looks at Alexandra.

NURSE

Give me your passport.

Alexandra gives the passport. The nurse walks away, still muttering to herself.

Alexandra sees the nurse talking to the DOCTOR-ON-DUTY. The nurse shows him Alexandra's passport. Together they return to Alexandra. The doctor looks at Alexandra. As he speaks, the nurse starts typing something on the computer.

DOCTOR-ON-DUTY

I'd want to keep you here till we have the results of your tests, but as you don't have any medical coverage there would be a fee to pay… Do you understand?

Alexandra nods.

DOCTOR-ON-DUTY (CONT'D)

Do you have friends or relatives who can help you?..

ALEXANDRA

No.

DOCTOR-ON-DUTY

You must go back to Russia as soon as possible. You can't count on delivering your baby in France if you can't pay for the hospital. Do you have a return ticket?

Alexandra is silent.

 

INT - PARIS, HOSPITAL, EMERGENCY WARD, entrance - DAY

Back in her own clothes, Alexandra is walking towards the hospital exit. She suddenly stops and checks her bag.

 

INT - PARIS, HOSPITAL, EMERGENCY WARD, RECEPTION - DAY

Alexandra returns to the counter. The nurse looks at her with surprise.

ALEXANDRA

I had a book with me... I must have left it behind somewhere.

The nurse looks around, reluctantly gets up and walks to the cubicles. Alexandra waits.

The nurse comes back.

NURSE

I am afraid there is nothing there.

Distraught, Alexandra leaves.

 

INT - PARIS, LAILA'S APARTEMENT, corridor - LATE AFTERNOON

Supported by Aunt, Laila is standing on a chair, reaching to a shelf with dusty cardboard boxes. She pulls out one of the boxes, lowers it down.

Helped by Aunt Laila drags the box along uneven Parisian floors towards the living room.

 

INT - PARIS, LAILA'S APARTEMENT, living room - LATE AFTERNOON

Laila and Aunt leave the box by the bookshelves. In the room, there are books in French and Arabic, an old type-writer, manuscripts and a pile of Arab newspapers on the sofa.

Aunt moves newspapers away and plunges on the sofa.

Laila tears off the sealing tape and opens the box, revealing old documents and letters. She takes out a bunch of papers and starts looking through it. Aunt takes out another bunch of papers. She picks up an old photograph of AN IMPOSING MAN WITH MOUSTACHE.

AUNT

Your husband was so handsome, Laila. Why don't you frame this picture...

Unnerved, Laila takes the picture away from her and puts it back in the box.

LAILA

It's not what we are looking for, darling…

 

EXT – PARIS, PREFECTURE – DAY

The place in front of the entrance to the Prefecture is now empty. The barriers indicate where the queue was earlier in the day. A new GUARD, a young man with moustache, is sitting in the booth.

Alexandra walks along the barrier, looking on the ground. As she approaches the booth, the guard comes out.

GUARD

Do you have an appointment?

ALEXANDRA

I lost my book here.

GUARD

A book? When?

ALEXANDRA

This morning.

GUARD

Well, everything has already been cleaned, and all rubbish gone. I am sorry, Madam.

Alexandra walks away, disappointed.

 

int. PARIS, LAILA'S APARTMENT, living room - EVENING

The time passed. The pile of papers on the floor has increased, and the pile of papers in the box has almost disappeared.

Laila gets up from the floor and turns on the lights. She lifts the box and empties the rest on the floor.

LAILA

Nothing's here!

Aunt gets up from the sofa in frustration.

AUNT

Why can't you keep your things in order! It's serious, they can deport you, you understand?

Now I have to call your uncle Omar in Beirut, and beg him for help… if of course you want to stay in France!  I have to go now.

 

int. PARIS, LAILA'S APARTMENT, corridor - EVENING

Laila watches Aunt in the corridor putting on her coat.

AUNT (CONT'D)

You know what, Laila? I worry about you!

She turns around and disappears behind the door.

 

int. PARIS, LAILA'S APARTMENT, corridor - EVENING

…Standing on a chair, Laila brings down others three boxes. She drops them on the floor, one by one.

 

int. PARIS, LAILA'S APARTMENT, living room - EVENING

Laila takes a sponge and wipes the dust off. She tears away the tape on a closest box and opens it.

It has neatly folded children clothes. Laila looks at it, her hands shaking, then closes it again.

She abruptly gets up, goes to the kitchen…

 

int. PARIS, LAILA'S APARTMENT, kitchen - EVENING

…and opens the cold water tap. Her hands still shaking, Laila puts a glass under the water. The water fills it and overflows. She drops the glass and bites on her hand, stopping a cry.

 

int. PARIS, LAILA'S APARTMENT, living room - EVENING

Laila sweeps papers off the floor and throws them in the box. She closes the box and pushes it under the table.

She notices Alexandra's book lying on the table.

 

INT. PARIS, EMERGENCY AT HOTEL-DIEUX HOSPITAL - EVENING

The Akhmatova book in hand, Laila knocks at the emergency reception window, closed at this time.

The NURSE-ON-DUTY appears from the back room. She comes to the window and opens it.

LAILA

Someone was taken to your emergency this afternoon… A pregnant Russian woman, Alexandra…

The nurse checks the records.

NURSE

Alexandra Golubeva?

Laila nods.

NURSE (CONT'D)

Discharged.

LAILA

Is she alright?

The nurse looks glances the file.

NURSE

She needs bed rest for a few days… Are you a relative?…

LAILA

No. I was with her at the Prefecture… I need to find her.

The nurse changes the tone.

NURSE

I am sorry we can't give you any information.

She closes the window.

Laila walks out. She has to step aside to give a way to a trolley with a WOMAN rushed into the hospital by a MALE NURSE.

 

EXT. PARIS, HOSPITAL - EVENING

Outside the hospital gates Laila stops.

She looks at the Akhmatova book, randomly leafs through it. She takes out a few folded pages and a compliments' slip from "Russian Thought" with instructions how to get to the Prefecture.

Laila studies the slip, then unfolds the hand-written pages. It is a draft of a French translation, with some words crossed out. Laila reads it.

LAILA

(to herself)

I, like a river, have been turned aside by this harsh age. I am a substitute. My life has flowed into another channel and I do not recognize my shores...

 

INT. PARIS, HOTEL, ALEXANDRA'S ROOM – NIGHT

Alexandra is lying on her side on top of the bed, her arms around her stomach, her eyes open.

She sits up, reaches for a piece of paper and a pen.

She writes from memory in attempt to restore her lost translation, crosses out and changes a few words…

ALEXANDRA

(V.O.)

I know the beginnings and the ends of things, and life after the end, and something it isn't necessary to remember now

She fills a glass with tap water, puts it by her bed and lies down again.

…The lights are off. Alexandra is lying in bed with her eyes open, sleepless, listening to the SOUNDS OF THE CITY.

ALEXANDRA

(V.O.)

…Oh, how many fine signs I've missed...and how many poems I have not written, whose secret chorus swirls around my head And possibly one day will stifle me…

 

EXT. PARIS, PUBLIC LIBRARY (BEABOURG) - NIGHT

Laila walks towards a modern building of a public library, which light is diffused by the powdery rain.

There are PEOPLE moving inside the library. Dark silhouettes of SECURITY GUARDS loom by the entrance gates. 

Laila enters the building.

 

INT. PARIS, PUBLIC LIBRARY (BEAUBOURG) - NIGHT (CONT)

Laila is sitting at a desk in the library. The space is calm and silent with few people still reading and working.

Using a Russian-French dictionary Laila transcribes Akhmatova's name from Russian to French. She writes on a paper, reads it: 'Anna Akh-ma-to-va'...

…Laila returns to the desk with a pile of books. There are a few translations of Akhmatova's poems and books about her. Laila sits down, opens the first book…

…A STAFF MEMBER approaches Laila.

STAFF

We are closing, madam.

Reluctant, Laila leaves the desk.

 

EXT. PARIS, STREETS - NEXT DAY MORNING

Early hour. A newspaper vendor, the familiar Korean woman, puts fresh newspapers on the stand.

Headlines and pictures of a suicide bombing in Turkey.

 

INT. PARIS, HOTEL, LOBBY - morning

Alexandra comes down the steps, with all her bags. The hotel owner is by the counter.

HOTEL OWNER

Going back to Russia?

ALEXANDRA

No. I am looking for a job… I want to ask you… do you need someone to help around here?

HOTEL OWNER

(baffled)

No, Madam, I can’t employ anyone else here.

ALEXANDRA

In exchange for the room?…

The owner looks at her with some compassion.

HOTEL OWNER

No, I can’t. But… it is possible that I know someone looking for a Polish or Russian girl to do an urgent job for him... He'll pay well...

ALEXANDRA

What kind of job would it be?

HOTEL OWNER

I don’t know exactly, some papers to translate… Come back in the afternoon, I'll see if I find him. You can leave your bags if you want.

ALEXANDRA

It's very kind of you.

HOTEL OWNER

Well you need kind people in your situation, don't you?

 

EXT. PARIS, STREETS, kiosk - MORNING

Alexandra walks past the newspapers kiosk. The Korean woman notices Alexandra.

KOREAN WOMAN

(with a strong accent)

Madame! I have the newspaper you wanted!

Alexandra stops, puzzled. She follows the woman under the plastic cover.

The woman digs out a copy of 'Russian Thought' and holds it out to Alexandra.

Alexandra unfolds the paper, glances… she sees VARYA'S PICTURE AND A REVIEW OF THE FILM. Alexandra smiles. She finds the page with 'classified' and scans it looking for her own ad…

The Korean woman snatches the newspaper from her.

KOREAN WOMAN (CONT'D)

Can't read. Must buy!

Startled, Alexandra lets go of the newspaper.

She walks away, leaving the Korean woman with the newspaper in her hands.

 

EXT, PARIS, PREFECTURE – MORNING

The Prefecture is still closed.

A long QUEUE is already waiting there behind the barriers. PEOPLE AT THE FRONT OF THE QUEUE have clearly spent a long time there - some have blankets, some have folding chairs and thermoses with hot drinks.

Alexandra looks at the queue and instead of joining it, turns around and walks away.

 

int. paris, laila’s apartment, kitchen - morning

The ‘Russian Thought’ slip in Laila’s hand. Laila, already dressed, dials the number from the letter-head.

V.O. BARONESS

"Russian Thought", good morning...

LAILA

I wonder if you can help me. I am looking for a pregnant Russian called Alexandra Golubeva. She left behind her book and it had a paper with your phone inside, so I thought perhaps you know how to find her…

V.O. BARONESS

Oh that poor girl… We published her ad you know but I doubt she’ll get much response. She said she was in a hotel, let me find the number…

Laila waits listening to muffled voices of Baroness and the Thin Woman on the background, then the steps of Baroness returning to the phone.

V.O. BARONESS

Do you have a pen?

laila

Yes.

V.O. BARONESS

You see we used to have foundations which helped people arriving from Russia but in the last few years so many came that all our foundations collapsed…

 

EXT - PARIS, RUSSIAN CATHEDRAL, RUE DARU - DAY

Alexandra is in front of a Russian Orthodox Cathedral behind a high tilted metal fence.

She walks up the stairs to the Cathedral.

 

INT - PARIS, RUSSIAN CATHEDRAL, RUE DARU - DAY

Inside is dark and empty, just a few people quietly waiting for the evening service. Hidden from view, a very small CHOIR warms up, their VOICES distorted by the echo.

Right by the entrance, an OLDER MAN is selling various candles and other paraphernalia with pencil-written prices on pieces of paper. He turns to Alexandra who enters the cathedral.

OLDER MAN

(in Russian)

Good day. Do you want a candle?

ALEXANDRA

(in Russian)

No, thank you. I have very little money left.

The man gives her a small candle.

OLDER MAN

(in Russian)

Take it anyway... Are you here for a visit or to stay?

ALEXANDRA

(in Russian)

To stay.

Alexandra crosses the church towards the altar, lights her candle from another flame and puts it in front of a dark icon of St Nicholas. She returns to the counter.

ALEXANDRA (CONT'D)

Where is the notice board?..

OLDER MAN

It's outside.

EXT - RUSSIAN CHURCH RUE DARU - DAY

The board is covered with ads put by people 'looking for any job'. On the left side of the board there is also a rain-washed list of Parisian shelters for the homeless with explanations of what services these shelters can provide.

Alexandra removes a couple of rusty pins, finds an empty corner and puts up her own hand-written notice: 'Professional translations, house help, baby-sitting. Call  "Russian Thought" post 3, leave a message for Alexandra'

She scans other notices.

There is one ad saying (in typed letters in French): 'looking for a live-in companion for an old lady'. All telephone numbers on this one are torn off.

Alexandra finds a pen and a piece of paper in her bag and writes down the number with an exclamation mark besides it.

Now, she moves towards the list of shelters and starts writing down the addresses…

A RUSSIAN PRIEST crosses the yard from the Cathedral to a two-storey building next to the notice board. He looks at Alexandra.

PRIEST

(in Russian)

I can give you a copy of this list if you want…

Alexandra turns around.

ALEXANDRA

(in Russian)

Thank you.

The priest punches in the code and enters the two-storey building. Alexandra hesitantly follows him.

 

int. paris, russian church office - day

Alexandra stops at the threshold while the priest goes further along the corridor to a small office with a WOMAN sitting in front of an old computer.

Alexandra notices a telephone hanging on the wall.

The priest walks back to Alexandra with a printed list of shelters.

PRIEST

(in Russian)

You need to go there before six, otherwise you won't get a place…

Alexandra takes the list. She points to the telephone.

ALEXANDRA (CONT'D)

(in Russian)

Is it possible to use your phone?

RUSSIAN PRIEST

(in Russian)

A call in Paris?

ALEXANDRA

(in Russian)

Yes.

He gestures her to the phone.

The woman from the office looks at Alexandra with curiosity.

Alexandra dials the number she just wrote down.

ALEXANDRA (CONT'D)

Good morning. I am calling regarding a live-in companion position... I can come right now if it's convenient for you...

 

INT - PARIS, METRO - DAY

Alexandra is in the vestibule of a metro station. She stops by the cashiers and looks at the sign with ticket prices.  She checks her pocket and her backpack for remaining change, counts it. It's not enough.

Alexandra looks around.

A YOUNG BLACK COUPLE going through the barrier in a tight embrace on one ticket. THE STATION ATTENDANT doesn't seem to notice or care. Then A YOUNG EAST-EUROPEAN MAN squeezes through the barrier behind A JAPANESE TOURIST.

Alexandra notices a friendly-looking middle-age man in a business suit who stopped by the barriers to find his ticket.

alexandra

Would you be so kind to let me pass the barrier with you?

The man looks at her as if she’d fallen from the sky.

alexandra

I have an urgent appointment and…

man in a business suit

(interrupting, infuriated)

You must be kidding, you!

He waves his arms and goes alone through the barriers.

Alexandra looks around in despair. She hesitates, but when the station attendant looks away, she prompts herself towards a well-dressed middle-age WOMAN who is about to go through. The woman turns to her with annoyance. However Alexandra manages to squeeze through the barrier.

 

int. paris, metro, passage - day

As Alexandra walks turns to the passage to the platforms, she suddenly sees THREE CONTROLLERS talking to the East-European man. One of the controllers steps towards the middle-age woman and Alexandra.

CONTROLLER

Your tickets, please.

The middle-aged woman shows her ticket.

Alexandra doesn't stop but walks passed the controllers down the stairs to the platform.

CONTROLLER (CONT'D)

Madam!

Alexandra ignores his call.

 

int. paris, metro, platforms - day

Once on the platform, Alexandra quickly walks towards the furthest end, hiding behind passengers waiting for the train.

The controllers appear on the platform. Alexandra anxiously waits for the train.

As the controllers get closer, Alexandra looks around, and not having found a better refuge, starts going up the stairs towards the 'exit' sign.

 

int. paris, metro, stairs - day

She speeds up, covers the last stairs…

 

ext. paris, metro, stairs - day

…and burst out onto the street, just a few metres away from where she started.

Unable to run anymore she leans heavily against a lamp post...

 

ext. paris, street – day

Holding open her map of Paris Alexandra hurriedly walks along the street.

 

ext. PARIS, vegetable market - DAY

Aunt with a shopping bag on wheels waits by the entrance to a vegetable market stretching along a boulevard.

A street musician - a YOUNG MAN WITH A BEARD - playing Bach on a cello. He has gloves with cut fingers and an open newspaper with few coins in front of him.

Laila appears from the metro entrance and quickly walks to Aunt.

AUNT

You are late as always!…Found the papers, I hope?!

LAILA

No.

aunt

Well so I thought! I’ve spoken to Omar, if you want to know. He promised to help.

Aunt leaves her shopping basket behind for Laila to pick up and starts walking. Laila stops her by the arm.

laila

Darling, I won’t be able to stay, I have something urgent I need to do.

aunt

(baffled)

At the Prefecture?

Laila hesitates.

laila

No, darling, I need to return the book, remember, to that pregnant Russian.

aunt

But why is it exactly now?

laila

It’s a bit complicated to explain…

aunt

(offended)

‘Complicated’?!… Well what do you suggest I do now?!

laila

Perhaps you could start shopping by yourself and I’ll join you later…

aunt

That’s nice of you, Laila! You well know I can’t carry anything heavy!

Aunt grabs her basket and walks away from Laila.

Laila breathes in, catches up with Aunt and takes the shopping bag from her…

 

INT. PARIS, MULYA'S APARTMENT - DAY

Alexandra stops by an apartment door in an imposing Hausmannien building. She reads the name and knocks at the door.

Slow steps are heard behind the door, then an old voice asks.

V.O. MULYA

Who's that?

ALEXANDRA

I have an appointment for an interview. I am sorry I am late...

There is a movement outside the door, numerous locks being unlocked, till finally the door opens.

A very frail old woman (MULYA) with a halo of white hair, stands on the threshold. She smiles blindly and stretches her arms towards Alexandra.

MULYA

Who are you, my dear?

ALEXANDRA

Alexandra.

MULYA

How lovely, it's my mother's name...  Do you speak Russian?

ALEXANDRA

I am Russian.

Mulya finds her hand and pulls Alexandra behind herself.

MULYA

(in Russian)

I am so glad you are late! You'll tell me everything about yourself, before Aleshka comes back...

INT - PARIS, MULYA'S APARTMENT, corridor - DAY (CONT.)

Mulya pulls Alexandra behind herself along a corridor with some old photographs framed on the walls. Alexandra can only glance at the pictures as she walks passed.

INT - PARIS, MULYA'S APARTMENT, kitchen - DAY (CONT.)

Following the directions of Mulya, Alexandra sets for tea a round table in the middle of kitchen.

MULYA

(in Russian)

Take two blue cups from the cupboard, with little shepherds, my mother's wedding present…  My husband was French, he was an angel… I am not an angel myself, I am an old crone…

Alexandra takes old fine china cups from the cupboard and puts them on the counter. Mulya touches them, checking that they are the correct ones. Mulya's hands slightly shake, and the cups chime. She puts them on the table.

MULYA (CONT'D)

(in Russian)

I am alone all day long, I have no one to talk to... Are you hungry, dear?

Mulya finds a bag with bread and pushes it towards Alexandra.

MULYA (CONT'D)

(in Russian)

Take some cheese from the fridge, will you?... We'll have a party, like in the old days… Me and my sister used to have soirees, every Thursday... My sister, Dashen'ka, was the brightest. I was useless, all I could do was to flirt and giggle... We had a guest book... Everybody signed: Nevedomsky, Struve...  Aleshka's not interested, he calls me 'mere, vous'. Dashen'ka's almost eighty. Her husband was an Italian ambassador, God bless his soul.

ALEXANDRA

(in Russian, interested)

Do you still have the guest book?

MULYA

(in Russian)

Dashen'ka has it. She wrote to me the other day... She needs someone to sort the archive before she dies... She's a sweetheart, not nearly as crazy as I am... Wait...

Mulya digs in her pocket and produces a slightly battered postcard with a picture of beautiful Italian countryside.

MULYA (CONT'D)

(in Russian)

Can you read French?

ALEXANDRA

Yes. I do translations in fact.

MULYA

(in Russian)

Dashen'ka will be so happy! She has a villa in the mountains near Torino, you'll like it there...

ALEXANDRA

(in Russian, puzzled)

Torino?...

…Alexandra pours the freshly made tea into two cups with shepherds and sits down to the table across from Mulya. The apartment door opens and closes again. Heavy steps are heard in the corridor. MULYA'S SON ALEXIS, dressed in a Franciscan monk's garment, appears in the kitchen.

Mulya turns to him, discontent.

MULYA

(in Russian)

Alexis, this charming Russian lady...

ALEXIS

(to Alexandra)

For an interview? You were late...

ALEXANDRA

I am sorry, I...

Alexandra gets up the chair. Alexis looks at her, pausing his eyes on her stomach.

MULYA

(in Russian, to Alexis)

Will you take a cup of tea with us?

ALEXIS

No, mother, I have things to do.

(to Alexandra)

You did not mention on the phone that you were pregnant, madam.

MULYA

(in Russian, to Alexis)

Pregnant?!

Surprised, Mulya gently touches Alexandra's stomach.

MULYA (CONT'D)

(in Russian, with delight)

It's been long since I had babies around here... Look how it kicks! Go away, he says, you, old bones, don't touch me...

ALEXIS

(to Alexandra)

I regret you are not what we are looking for. If you've finished your tea, I'll see you to the door.

Alexandra puts down her cup.

MULYA

(to Alexis)

She has not finished her tea, and she is hungry, Alexis!

ALEXANDRA

(getting up)

Thank you, I've finished, it doesn't matter.

MULYA

(in Russian, to Alexandra)

I am sorry, darling…

She takes Alexandra's hand.

int. paris, mulya’s apartment, corridor - day

Alexandra puts on her coat while Mulya blindly waits near-by. Alexis looms on the background.

Mulya embraces Alexandra, forcing her to bend down. She slides Dashen'ka's postcard in Alexandra's pocket.

MULYA (CONT'D)

(in Russian, whispering)

I'd love you to stay, darling, but I am a useless rag now. Dashen'ka has a good heart, she’ll help you. You'll go there, promise? She'll be so happy! Give her my love and kiss her for me, will you?...

INT. PARIS, MULYA'S APARTMENT STAIRS - AFTERNOON

Alexandra is on the landing near Mulya's door, waiting for the lift. She takes out the postcard and studies it. It has a return address - 6 via de la Montagna, Torino, Italy - and a short note written in French in almost unreadable old handwriting, signed 'your Dashen'ka'.  Alexandra puts the card in her pocket…

int. paris, railway station – late afternoon

Alexandra is at the ‘information’ window.

alexandra

How much is a ticket to Torino?

clerk

A singe or return?

alexandra

A single.

clerk

Hundred twenty six euro. When do you want to travel?

alexandra

I don’t know yet. Thank you.

ext. paris, vegetable market – afternoon

Aunt and Laila emerge from the row of market stalls – Aunt and her umbrella is in the front, Laila is pulling the bag in the rear.

Aunt stops by a flower stall and picks up a few flowers from one of the buckets.

aunt

I need something bright for the house… Why don’t you take a few as well? Your place is always gloomy! You see, Laila, flowers give joy, and who knows your mood might change as well…

Aunt studies the chosen flowers and puts them back in the bucket.

aunt

They don’t seem to be very fresh… Well, I’ll go home now, find me a taxi, and you can go to see your Russian!

INT. PARIS, HOTEL LOBBY - LATE AFTERNOON.

Alexandra walks in the hotel lobby. The HOTEL OWNER'S WIFE, a Middle-Eastern woman in her late fifties, is at the counter.

ALEXANDRA

I've come to pick up my bags.

HOTEL OWNER'S WIFE

Your name?

ALEXANDRA

Alexandra.

The wife stands up, goes behind the counter and puts out Alexandra's bags and a piece of paper.

HOTEL OWNER'S WIFE

(disapprovingly)

My husband left a phone number for you. It's about a job you're looking for I believe.

Alexandra reads the message: ' Mr.Quiquou, 4324 5511'.

ALEXANDRA

Can I use your phone?…

Without a word, the wife takes the piece of paper with the number, dials and gives the receiver to Alexandra. As Alexandra talks on the phone, the owner's wife looks at her with scepticism.

ALEXANDRA

(on the phone)

You left a message for me in the hotel... Yes, I can meet... What's the name of the restaurant again? Raouche?

She looks for a pen, takes one from the counter under the disapproving gaze of the hotel owner's wife, writes the name on a piece of paper.

ALEXANDRA

I'll find it, I have a map.

She hangs up.

HOTEL OWNER'S WIFE

Do you need anything else?

ALEXANDRA

No, thanks.

The wife drags Alexandra's bags towards the front door, opens the door and puts the bags outside. Alexandra follows her. The wife turns around and, without saying goodbye, goes back inside.

EXT - PARIS, STREET NEAR LEBANESE RESTAURANT - EVENING

INT - PARIS, HOTEL, LOBBY - day

a young arab man is sitting by the counter talking on a mobile phone. He throws a quick look at Laila. Laila looks around, noticing the peeling paint, the photos and the worn out carpet...

young arab man

(in Arabic, on the phone)

Wait, I have a client…

He covers the speaker with his hand and looks at Laila with a silent question.

LAILA

I am looking for madam Golubeva.

young arab man

She’s checked out.

laila

I know but she was supposed to come to pick up her luggage.

The young man turns to the stairs.

young arab man

(shouts in Arabic, to the hotel owner)

Mum!…

young arab man

(shouts in Arabic, to the hotel owner)

This Russian, has she already picked her stuff?

V.O.hOTEL OWNER's wife

(in Arabic)

Yes, why?

young arab man

(in Arabic)

There is a lady...

LAILA

(in Arabic, interrupting)

I called this morning, I have something to return to her.

The wife appears from the back room and looks at Laila with interest.

HOTEL OWNER's wife

(in Arabic)

She is meeting someone… for work… at Raouche, around the corner. Perhaps you'll catch her if you go there straight away.

EXT - PARIS, STREET NEAR RESTAURANT rauche - day

Laila turns into a narrow street with a few Middle-Eastern cafes. She sees a small sign 'Scheherazade' with a poster in the window announcing 'belly dancing on weekends'... Laila crosses the street and enters the restaurant.

int - PARIS, RESTAURANT Scheherazade - day

The restaurant is almost empty. Laila notices Alexandra sitting at a corner table with a smarmy man in a business suit, short and bald, (MR.QUIQUOU). Laila looks at them, hesitating whether to approach Alexandra. Quiquou opens his briefcase and takes out a bunch of papers.

The restaurant owner appears in front of Laila.

RESTAURANT OWNER

(to Laila)

A table for one?...

LAILA

(in Arabic)

Yes.

He leads her to a table, puts down the menu and leaves. Laila moves her chair so that she can see Alexandra and Quiquou.

The waiter, a young tunisian, comes to Laila's table.

WAITER

Something to drink to start with?

LAILA

(in Arabic)

No I’ll just take a plate.

WAITER

I am sorry. I don't speak Arabic.

int - PARIS, RESTAURANT Scheherazade - day (CONT.)

The waiter arrives to Quiquou’s table with a plate of starters. Quiquou puts the papers on the edge of the table to make room for food.

QUIQUOU

Russian women don't talk much... Eat, it's good food, you won't find this in Russia.

Alexandra is hesitant.

ALEXANDRA

I can't pay for it.

Quiquou laughs.

QUIUOU

Oh it doesn’t matter, eat.

Alexandra cautiously starts eating. Quiquou looks at her, smiling.

QUIQUOU

I'm a kind man, I want to help you. We'll make an arrangement, which is beneficial for both of us… You are pretty, I did not expect that…

He opens one of the document folders and puts it in front of Alexandra.

QUIQUOU

Look… What you need to do is to fill it in Russian and to write a new contract.

Alexandra glances at the papers.

QUIQUOU

Normally I have a Russian girl who helps me but she's in Spain for two weeks. Are you free this afternoon?

ALEXANDRA

Is it legal?...

QUIQUOU

Don’t worry, there is no risk for you.

Alexandra looks through the papers, reads. Uneasy, she turns to Quiquou.

ALEXANDRA

I don’t want to do anything illegal. 

QUIQUOU

Legal, illegal! You are not a child! You need work? Here it is! I don’t ask for your documents, do I?  You'll do the job, I'll pay cash, and that's it. If you do it well, I'll have some other work. Where’s the problem?!

Alexandra gives the papers back to Quiquou.

ALEXANDRA

I can’t do it.

QUIQUOU

Come on, I am wasting my time with you.

ALEXANDRA

I am sorry.

Quiquou looks at her for a moment.

QUIQUOU

As you wish, then.

Quiquou puts papers back in his bag and waves to the waiter who brings the bill. Quiquou puts the bill on the table in front of Alexandra.

QUIQUOU (CONT'D)

Your share is eighteen.

Alexandra stops eating.

ALEXANDRA

My share of what?

QUIQUOU

Lunch! Here in France when you go to lunch you pay for what you eat!

Alexandra looks at him in disbelief.

QUIQUOU

Ah! Bravo! What do you hope for? I’ve wasted time with you, and you want me pay for your lunch! Such impudence!

He waves to the waiter, observing the effect his words make on Alexandra who is on the verge of tears. Satisfied, he assumes a softer tone.

QUIQUOU

Well, I could have left you alone to sort it with the owner and the police but I am a kind man. We’ll go to my office and you’ll sign a debt note for me. Agreed?

int - PARIS, RESTAURANT Scheherazade - day (CONT.)

Laila sees Alexandra getting up and leaving the table. Quiquou takes Alexandra’s bags and walks a few steps behind her towards the exit.

Laila gets up, just as the waiter arrives to her table with food, blocking Laila’s way.

LAILA

(to the waiter)

I’m really sorry I have to go.

Laila puts a few banknotes on the table and makes her way to the exit.

EXT - PARIS, near RESTAURANT scheherezade – late afternoon (cont.)

Outside, Laila sees Quiquou throwing Alexandra’s bags in the boot of his car parked on the street to the left. Alexandra hesitates in front of the car.

laila

Alexandra!

Alexandra turns around to the sound of her name but Quiquou opens the passenger’s door and shoves Alexandra inside.

The car reverses, turning around and drives off. As it passes Laila, Alexandra’s and Laila’s eyes meet.

The car accelerates and turns around the corner. Worried, Laila runs after the car. Quiquou’s car slows down in a queue of cars waiting for a traffic light.

Laila looks around.

She sees a taxi stopping a few feet ahead, in front of a hotel. Laila runs there. A COUPLE appears from the taxi. Laila pushes her way inside. The TAXI DRIVER, a middle-age Korean man, turns to Laila.

laila

(to the driver)

Quick, Sir, follow that silver car.

driver

Madam I’ll go the speed I can!

…The taxi with Laila on board takes off after Quiquou's car.

Quiquou's car impatiently swirls to a pavement, overtakes a few cars, then turns into an underground parking.

INT - PARIS, parking QUIQUOU'S CAR – late afternoon (CONT)

Quiquou stops the car and turns off the engine. Alexandra turns towards him.

ALEXANDRA

What are you doing?

QUIQUOU

I changed my mind. I won't harm you… Do it quickly and you can go, you are a nice girl...

He starts undoing his fly.

ALEXANDRA

Let me out!

QUIQUOU

It's too late now, dear. Don’t make a fool of me, I’ve met Russian girls before.

The taxi with Laila appears from around the corner, the headlights illuminating Quiquou's car.

quiquou

Shit!

Quiquou swears, turns the engine on and angrily drives away just as the taxi almost approaches his car...

EXT/int. PARIS, STREETS, quiquou’s car - evening (CONT)

As Quiquou's car turns on a boulevard joining the traffic towards Gare de l’Est, Alexandra manages to open the window.

ALEXANDRA

(cries)

Help me please!

A PASSER-BY looks at her with puzzlement but slows his steps and leans forward trying to discern what's happening inside the car.

quiquou

Shut up!

Quiquou turns towards the station. He briskly stops. Without turning off the engine he gets out of the car and throws Alexandra's bags on the ground.

Alexandra scrambles out. Quiquou gets back in, slams his door and drives off.

PEOPLE at the entrance indifferently observe Alexandra.

Alexandra stays, shocked, with her bags on the ground. 

EXT/int. PARIS, STREETS, taxi – late afternoon (CONT)

As the taxi passes near the station, Laila sees Alexandra, who is slowly walking towards the station.

laila

(to the driver)

Stop here please!

driver

I can’t stop here, madam! It’s forbidden.

laila

Please!

driver

(adamant)

Let me do my job, madam!

The taxi turns into an adjacent street, makes a circle and arrives to the station from an opposite corner.

driver

Here we are.

Laila gets out, but Alexandra has already disappeared.

INT. PARIS, GARE DE L'EST, HALL – late afternoon

Alexandra walks into the station hall. She looks around. She sees a toilet sign and walks there.

INT- PARIS, GARE DE L'EST, LADIES TOILETS – EVENING (CONT)

Alexandra opens one of the cubicles, puts down the lid, drops her bag and tumbles down, her hands trembling.

As she calms down the SOUNDS FROM OUTSIDE start coming into her cubicle: VOICES OF TWO WOMEN discussing their lipstick… VOICE OF A MOTHER WAITING FOR HER DAUGHTER… THE ANNOUNCEMENT ABOUT AN ARRIVAL OF A TRAIN FROM MANNHEIM…

INT - PARIS, GARE DE L'EST, HALL - EVENING

Laila walks into the station hall. A few HOMELESS people, huddle in the recesses. A BLACK MAN moves around in circles talking loudly to himself. Laila walks faster.

Two ticket counters are still open and a FEW PEOPLE lining in front of them in two short queues.

Laila looks around and walks across the big foyer with the electronic board announcing departures and arrivals…

EXT - PARIS, GARE DE L'EST, PLATFORMS - EVENING

Laila walks along the platforms.

She notices a POLICEMAN a few metres away checking the documents of an oddly-dressed East-European COUPLE and goes inside the station again.

INT- PARIS, GARE DE L'EST, LADIES TOILETS – EVENING (CONT)

Alexandra gets up from the seat, takes her bags and leaves the cubicle.

She stops by the sinks and slowly washes her face.

INT- GARE DE L'EST, HALL NEAR TOILETS - EVENING (CONT)

Alexandra comes out of the toilet. The TOILET ATTENDANT, a pointy woman with a working-class accent, sits by the entrance guarding a plate with coins.

Alexandra passes her without noticing the plate, accidentally brushing her with a one of the bags.

ALEXANDRA

I'm sorry.

TOILET ATTENDANT

Thirty cents.

ALEXANDRA

What?

TOILET ATTENDANT

You used the toilet. Thirty cents.

ALEXANDRA

I don't have money.

The toilet lady is outraged. She gets off her chair and grabs Alexandra's sleeve.

TOILET ATTENDANT

(shouts with a heavy working-class accent.)

They come and want to shit for free! It's not a station anymore, it's a shitty kip!...

She pulls Alexandra's sleeve.

TOILET ATTENDANT (CONT) (CONT'D)

I'll call the cops.

But attracted by the noise, TWO POLICEMAN are already making their way through the crowd.

INT - GARE DE L'EST, HALL - EVENING

Back in the main lobby Laila notices movements near the entrance to the toilets and turns there to check.

She sees two policemen and Alexandra and dashes towards the group. As she arrives there, one of the policemen is checking Alexandra's passport.

LAILA

(to the policemen, interrupting)

Excuse me… This lady is with me. We missed each other…

Alexandra looks at her with surprise.

POLICEMAN ONE

She seems to have broken something…

TOILET ATTENDANT

(interrupting)

Nothing's broken but I can't work for free! She...

LAILA

(stopping her)

Madame, I am sorry for the trouble. I'm sure she meant nothing wrong.

She takes out some change and gives it to the toilet-lady who, still muttering, returns to her chair.

TOILET ATTENDANT

(muttering)

'Sorry for the trouble'! They are all the same gang, the thieves!

POLICEMAN TWO turns to Laila with suspicion.

POLICEMAN TWO

Do you live in Paris? Can I see your ID and proof of residence?

Taken aback Laila opens her purse and looks through it. Her hands are shaking. Torn open envelopes with bills… her credit card… and finally, her Lebanese passport… The policeman checks the passport, then passes it to his colleague.

POLICEMAN ONE

Your resident visa expires at the end of the month. Have you applied for a renewal?

LAILA

Yes.

POLICEMAN ONE

Can I see your letter of reference?

LAILA

I must have left it at home... But my visa is still valid, isn't it?

Reluctantly, the policeman returns the documents.

LAILA (CONT'D)

Thank you, Sir.

She tucks the papers back into her purse, takes Alexandra's bag and pulls Alexandra away.

EXT - PARIS, GARE DE L'EST, PLATFORMS - EVENING (CONT)

Outside, near the platforms, Laila and Alexandra stop. Laila puts Alexandra's bag on the ground. Her hands are still shaking, but she smiles to Alexandra, who is on the verge of tears.

LAILA

For a moment I thought they would arrest both of us…  I left you a message at the hotel. I have your book…

Laila takes the book out of her purse and gives it to Alexandra. Alexandra clenches it, finds the notes and looks gratefully at Laila.

LAILA

I found your notes. I read them... I am sorry I know I should not have done it but I was looking for information to contact you… I knew nothing of Akhmatova before… Do you say ‘Ac-ma-to’va’?

alexandra

(correcting)

Akhmatova.

laila

(repeats)

Ah… Akhmatova…

ALEXANDRA

I'd almost finished the whole book before I came to Paris.

ONE LATE PASSENGER, a man in a hat, runs to the train but is stopped by a STATION ATTENDANT and now watches desperately the train slowly pulling out. 

Alexandra picks up her bag.

ALEXANDRA (CONT'D)

Thank you. I must go. I need to be at a shelter before six, otherwise I won't have a place for tonight…

LAILA

I live not far from here, you can stay with me overnight.

Alexandra looks at her, hesitating.

LAILA (CONT'D)

You'll have a good night sleep and tomorrow we'll talk about what you can do next…  Wait, you're still shivering…

Laila takes off her shawl and wraps it around Alexandra, as she has already done once, near the Prefecture.

INT- PARIS, LAILA'S APARTMENT, corridor - EVENING

Laila opens the door letting Alexandra into the apartment. Alexandra takes off her coat and Laila’s shawl and steps into Laila’s living room, cluttered, with the open cardboard boxes with documents.

LAILA

It's a mess, I live alone...

Laila moves newspapers away from the sofa, making a place for Alexandra to sit down. Alexandra looks around. She notices a picture on the floor by the sofa. She picks it up. 

It is a photo of two children. The youngest, a boy in a checked shirt, is smiling happily, while the girl is looking seriously into the camera. Alexandra gives the picture to Laila.

ALEXANDRA

Are they yours?...

Laila takes it carefully.

LAILA

Nidal… the little one is Karim...

ALEXANDRA

Do they live in France as well?

LAILA

No. They don't live anymore.

Alexandra looks at Laila, not understanding.

LAILA (CONT'D)

They were killed in Beirut, twenty years ago.  I don’t have children.

Laila carefully puts the picture in the box and lingers for a moment, pulling herself together.

Then she turns to Alexandra, who is looking at her with eyes wide open. Laila gently puts her hand on Alexandra's stomach.

LAILA (CONT'D)

This little person must be hungry! Would you like to take a shower while I make dinner?

Alexandra nods.

INT - PARIS, LAILA'S APARTMENT, KITCHEN - EVENING (CONT)

Laila washes vegetables. She turns off the water and listens for a moment to the SOUND OF THE SHOWER. She smiles.

…Laila is frantically cooking: she throws something in boiling water

…turns around something in a frying pan

…chops vegetables...

…Laila switches off the frying pan. She puts big old plates with Arabic ornaments on the table.

LAILA

Dinner's ready! Alexandra!

There is no answer. Laila wipes her hands and walks out of the kitchen.

INT - PARIS, LAILA'S APARTMENT, living room - EVENING (CONT)

Alexandra, wrapped in one of Laila's dressing gowns, is asleep on the sofa, the open Akhmatova book in her hand.

Laila carefully removes the book, lowers the lights and covers Alexandra with a blanket. She stops and for a few instants watches Alexandra's calm and clear face… Then she tiptoes out of the room closing the door.

INT - PARIS, LAILA'S APARTMENT, corridor - EVENING (CONT)

…The DOORBELL rings. Laila dashes to open.

Triumphant, Aunt steps in, waving an envelope.

AUNT

Your certificates!...

(with great surprise)

Oh, that smells nice, Laila! Did you cook something?

Laila puts a finger to her lips.

LAILA

Hush!

Aunt looks at her, perplexed.

LAILA (CONT'D)

(whispers)

She's asleep.

AUNT

Who's asleep?

Laila hushes again and gestures Aunt to follow her. They stop by the door to the living room. Laila points quietly to the half-closed door. Aunt looks through the crack.

AUNT (CONT'D)

(profoundly puzzled)

Who's that, Laila?

Laila closes the door.

LAILA

(whispering)

I'll explain all in the kitchen.

INT - PARIS, LAILA'S APARTMENT, KITCHEN - NIGHT

Aunt is sitting at the table, a plate with food in front of her. But Aunt hardly looks at it.

AUNT

(in Arabic)

I don't want you to be deported because you help illegal immigrants!

LAILA

(in Arabic)

Please eat or it'll be cold. Do you like it?

AUNT

(in Arabic, ignoring)

Where's her husband?

LAILA

(in Arabic)

She doesn't have one.

INT - PARIS, LAILA'S APARTMENT, LIVING ROOM - NIGHT

Alexandra is woken up. She lies with her eyes opened listening to the VOICES coming into the room through an illuminated crack in the door...

INT - PARIS, LAILA'S APARTMENT, KITCHEN - NIGHT

AUNT

(in Arabic, full voice)

Who is she? I can't understand how a woman can find herself pregnant, alone, with no means and in a foreign country! I absolutely object to her staying with you, Laila.

LAILA

(in Arabic, whispering)

Please, darling, you'll wake her up... Eat.

Automatically Aunt picks up a piece and chews it. She looks surprised and picks up another bit.

aunt

(in Arabic, chewing)

I always knew you could cook, if only you did it more often!

Alexandra, still in Laila's gown, appears in the threshold.

LAILA

(gently, to Alexandra)

I am sorry we woke you up… Alexandra, this is my aunt... Darling, this is Alexandra.

Aunt turns around and smiles sweetly to Alexandra.

AUNT

We Lebanese always speak too loud! Laila told me so much about you…

LAILA

(to Alexandra)

Have something to eat and then I'll make you a proper bed.

AUNT

I'll also stay here tonight, Laila if you don't mind, I am too tired to go home. You can put me on the couch in the library if you want.

Laila looks at Aunt with suspicion but doesn’t say anything.

INT- PARIS, LAILA'S APARTMENT - NIGHT

Late night, or, perhaps, already early morning.

The familiar box with pictures and documents is open. Laila is at the kitchen table, looking at the pictures.

We see Laila, her husband, children, other people...

She puts photos aside, gets up.

She walks to the living room door and listens. The light coming from the corridor, reveals the Akhmatova book lying open on the floor by the bed. Alexandra seems to be asleep.

Laila tiptoes into the room…

int. paris, laila’s apartment, bathroom - night

Laila places the box with children’s clothes on top of the washing machine, opens it. She briefly looks at the clothes and starts putting them in the washing machine…

…Freshly washed, beautiful baby pyjamas and a blanket are drying on a line in the bathroom.

…Laila is at the ironing board, ironing, folding, putting clothes in a pile…

INT - PARIS, LAILA'S APARTMENT - EARLY MORNING

Laila puts on her shawl and quietly slips out of the apartment, gently closing the door behind herself...

INT- PARIS, LAILA'S APARTMENT, LIVING ROOM - MORNING

Alexandra opens her eyes. She looks around, recalling where she is. There are loud SOUNDS OF A COFFEE MACHINE and RADIO coming from the kitchen.

Besides her bed, there is a pile of freshly ironed and neatly folded baby shirts and pyjamas…

Alexandra looks at them, delighted.

INT- PARIS, LAILA'S APARTMENT, KITCHEN - MORNING

Wearing Laila's dressing gown Alexandra enters the kitchen.

Aunt is already up and is struggling with Laila's coffee machine. The machine makes SOUNDS but no coffee appears. The RADIO cheerfully DISCUSSES TRAFFIC SITUATION AROUND PARIS. Aunt turns to Alexandra.

AUNT

I hope I did not wake you up?…

ALEXANDRA

No, it's fine… where’s Laila?

Aunt waves her hand.

AUNT

She'll be back… Sit down, please.

Aunt moves a chair towards Alexandra. Alexandra sits down. Pigeons noisily take off outside the window. Alexandra smiles.

AUNT (CONT'D)

Laila has not told you about her problems, has she?…

Alexandra turns to Aunt, baffled.

AUNT (CONT'D)

She has a warm heart but she first acts and then thinks. She lost her children in the war, I don't know if she told you that, and she’s never quite recovered.

Aunt makes a gesture indicating that she thinks Laila is not quite in her mind.

aunt (CONT'D)

Now she has problems with her visa! She might be deported back to Lebanon!... If you care about her, you won’t stay here. You look like an intelligent girl, I am sure you understand…

Alexandra doesn't say anything.

AUNT (CONT'D)

We are happy to lend you some money, if you need, of course…

Alexandra gets up the chair.

AUNT (CONT'D)

Would you like a coffee or something to eat before you go?

ALEXANDRA

I can't have coffee.

AUNT

Oh, a little cup will do no harm…

As if agreeing with Aunt, the coffee machine suddenly emits a stream of hot brown liquid…

INT- PARIS, LAILA'S APARTMENT, LIVING ROOM - MORNING

Alexandra folds her bedding. She hesitates looking at the pile of baby clothes, then packs them in her bag.

She looks at the room. It is as it was before she came, except… she picks up newspapers from the floor and puts them on their old place of the sofa!

Alexandra pulls a clean piece of paper from the type-writer, sits down by the drawing table and writes something…

V.O.ALEXANDRA

(in Russian)

The souls of those I love are on high stars. How good that there is no one left to lose and one can weep. This place's air is made to repeat songs. By the riverbank the silver willow touches the bright September waters…

EXT. PARIS, bridge st.michel - morning

Alexandra walks across the Seine, whose waters are swollen and dark – Alexandra, a fragile silhouette under enormous grey skies, in danger, it seems, being swept away by the powerful current of the river…

EXT. PARIS, LA PENSEE RUSSE - morning

Alexandra crosses the yard towards a door with a sign 'La PensÈe Russe, 1re Ètage'. Kashtanka is sitting by the door. She cheerfully barks at Alexandra and her bags.

Alexandra stops and pats the dog.

INT - PARIS, LA PENSEE RUSSE - morning

As Alexandra walks up the stairs, Ostroguin passes her on his way down, the camera bag on his shoulder.

Alexandra stops by the door and tries to open it - it's locked. She rings the bell.

Ostroguin stops and observes Alexandra from the landing lower.

OSTROGUIN

(in Russian)

Dear girl, the office is still closed.

Alexandra turns to him. Ostroguin looks at her bags.

OSTROGUIN (CONT.)

(in Russian)

Are you in need of a place to stay?

Alexandra shakes her head. She puts her bags down and lowers herself on the steps. Ostroguin runs towards her.

OSTROGUIN

(in Russian)

Are you well?

Alexandra looks up at Ostroguin.

ALEXANDRA

(in Russian)

If I have my baby in Italy, would I have to pay for the hospital?

Ostroguin is puzzled by the question.

OSTROGUIN

(in Russian)

I don't know... I have an Italian friend, I can call him if you give me a minute?..

INT - PARIS, LAILA'S APARTMENT - MORNING

Laila, with her hands full of shopping bags and a bunch of bright flowers, enters the apartment.

She pauses, listening to the sound of the shower and smiles.

INT - PARIS, LAILA'S APARTMENT, KITCHEN - MORNING

Laila takes out fruits and croissants.

She reaches for a vase, rinses it and fills with water. She unwraps the flowers and starts cutting the ends of the flowers stems…

Aunt, wearing in Laila's dressing gown, appears in the kitchen. Her hair is wet, and she has a relaxed expression.

aunt

Where have you been?

LAILA

The Prefecture, everything’s fine… Is Alexandra up?

AUNT

She's gone.

LAILA

What?!

AUNT

She did not want to cause any inconvenience… I offered her money, from both of us of course, but she refused. She was not so badly mannered after all!

Laila storms out of the kitchen. Aunt follows her.

int. paris, laila’s apartment, corridor - morning

Laila opens the door to the living room as if hoping that she'll find Alexandra there, still asleep on the sofa... The room is empty.

AUNT

(conciliatory)

It's better like this, Laila. She is perfectly capable of surviving without you.

Distraught, Laila goes back into the kitchen. Aunt follows.

int. paris, laila’s apartment, kitchen - morning

Laila looks at the kitchen table, served for a festive breakfast, the flowers in the sink, the running water. Aunt turns off the tab.

AUNT

She left a note for you, by the way. I don't understand a word! She was a bit bizarre, don't you agree?

She leaves the kitchen and comes back with the note, which she puts on the table in front of Laila.

Laila takes it and reads.

V.O.LAILA

The souls of those… The souls of those I love are on high stars. How good that there is no one left to lose and one can weep. This place's air is made to repeat songs… To repeat songs…

Laila raises her eyes from the paper and looks at Aunt.

AUNT

She said she had a place to go to. I'll have breakfast, if you don't mind…

Laila doesn’t say anything. She takes flowers out of the sink and puts them in a vase, grabs her shawl and purse and storms out.

ext. paris, streets, newskiosk one – day

In the newspapers kiosk Laila looks through the display. A VENDOR, a middle-age Frenchman, serves ANOTHER CUSTOMER, then turns to Laila.

vendor

Can I help you?

laila

Do you have a newspaper called ‘Russian Thought’?

He shakes his head.

ext. paris, streets, newskiosk two – day

The VENDOR, a woman with a cigarette, rearranges newspapers on one of the stands.

laila

‘Russian Thought’? No?

ext. paris, streets, newskiosk three – day

A VENDOR and HIS FRIEND look at Laila with curiosity.

laila

It’s a Russian newspaper…

EXT - PARIS, THE RUSSIAN THOUGHT - DAY

With a ‘Russian Thought’ in hand, Laila crosses the yard towards a door with a sign  "Russian Thought", 1st floor'.

INT - PARIS, OFFICE OF  "RUSSIAN THOUGHT" - DAY (CONT.)

As Laila walks up the stairs, Ostroguin dashes passed her, followed by Kashtanka, entering the office of  "Russian Thought". Laila follows him.

Baroness and the skinny woman are sorting out papers on baroness' desk.

OSTROGUIN

(to Baroness, in Russian)

Left behind my camera, but have no idea where!

Baroness points to a black box by the palm tree.

BARONESS

(in Russian)

We found it on the stairs.

As he picks up the box, Kashtanka barks at Laila who stops by the entrance.

LAILA

Excuse me, I am looking for Alexandra, the pregnant Russian. I called you the other day…

baroness

Alexandra?

OSTROGUIN

Pregnant? There was one who came here. I put her on the train…

(to Baroness)

…that's why I am late…

(to Laila)

…to Torino…

(to Baroness)

Countess Greneff sent her to her sister to help with archives…

BARONESS

(in Russian)

What are you talking about, Leonid! Her sister's dead. She died almost a year ago.

OSTROGUIN

(in Russian, dismayed)

Mulya gave her an address, you see… she said it was a villa!...

Laila looks at them, concerned, not quite understanding what's going on.

BARONESS

(in Russian)

Mulya is not quite in her right  mind, Lenya. It's an old people's home…

(to Laila, in French)

I only hope she has some money to take a train back to Paris….

EXT - PARIS GARE DE LYON - DAY

Laila stops under the electronic timetable to check the departures. She walks to a telephone booth. She searches her pockets for a telephone card, finds one and puts it in the machine. She dials a number. Her own voice recorded on a machine answers the call.

V.O. Laila

Hello, leave your message and I’ll return your call…

laila

I hope you had a nice breakfast. I am leaving for Torino, this very moment…

V.O. AUNT

(who picks up the phone and interrupts Laila)

Torino!! WHY are you going to Torino?? Come back home, we'll talk.

LAILA

I must go, darling, my train is leaving in five minutes. We’ll talk when I am back, I promise.

Laila hangs up.

INT- TORINO TRAIN STATION hall - NIGHT

Two ITALIAN POLICEMEN walk through the station randomly checking passports of the PASSENGERS.

They stop by Alexandra who is standing in the middle of the hall, with Mulya's postcard in hand.

ITALIAN POLICEMAN ONE

(in Italian)

Do you need help?

Alexandra shakes her head.

ALEXANDRA

No thank you.

ITALIAN POLICEMAN TWO

(in limited French)

Have you just arrived? Can we see your passport?

Alexandra gives her passport, with the train ticket inside.

ITALIAN POLICEMAN TWO (CONT'D)

Where are you staying while in Italy?

ALEXANDRA

I have a friend.

ITALIAN POLICEMAN ONE

A boyfriend?

ALEXANDRA

An old lady.

ITALIAN POLICEMAN ONE

Do you have her address?

Alexandra gives him the postcard. The officer studies it, then gives to his colleague.

ITALIAN POLICEMAN TWO

You have to come with us.

He takes Alexandra's bag.

INT - ITALIAN POLICE STAION - DAY

Alexandra is sitting on a chair in the brightly lit police station.

Behind the counter, four POLICEMEN (MARIO, OLDER POLICEMAN, MARCO and LUIGI) vigorously debate while waving her passport and the postcard.

The older policeman glances at Alexandra, who is sitting still, looking frightened and tired.

The policeman halts the discussion. He leaves the counter and walks to Alexandra.

OLDER POLICEMAN

(in Italian)

Do you want something to eat?

He makes a gesture explaining what he is asking about. Alexandra nods.

…Mario makes a place on one of the desks, putting away papers and files. Luigi puts there a big plate of pasta and makes a sign to Alexandra.

She starts eating.

Luigi disappears. The older policeman and Marco return behind the counter. The older policeman dials a number, Alexandra's open passport in his hand…

Mario brings a chair and installs himself near Alexandra.

MARIO

(in Italian)

Where are you coming from? Latvia? Moldavia?

Alexandra shakes her head.

MARIO (CONT'D)

(in Italian)

Such a pretty girl and alone! I am alone as well. I am from Sicily. My name is Mario. Have you been to Sicily? It's very beautiful there, and people are kind. They love children. I don't have children but my cousin has three…

He shows with his hand the distance from the floor indicating how tall each child is.

MARIO (CONT'D)

(in Italian)

People in Sicily like singing. I like singing, too. When I finish my military service…

The older policeman comes out of the office, still holding Alexandra's passport.

OLDER POLICEMAN

(in Italian)

Cut it out, Mario!

(to Alexandra)

Don't listen to him. He'll break your heart... Finished eating?

INT/EXT - MOTORWAY, ITALIAN POLICE CAR - MORNING

Marco, a policeman with grim expression, is driving the car.

Alexandra is at the back. She looks at the disappearing motorway signs with names of Italian cities…

ALEXANDRA

Where are we going?

The policeman doesn't answer.

EXT - TORINO, STREETS - LATE MORNING

The police car passes along a dull grey fence, behind which lies a Roman ruin. The wall ends, and a marketplace opens behind the ruin. Along the perimeter of the market are piles of discarded cardboard boxes, rotten vegetables and groups of YOUNG MEN, nervously watching the passing police car.

The police car with Alexandra turns away from the market into a narrow street and stops by a gate without any sign, a CCTV camera above it.

The gate opens. The car crawls into the small yard of a grey four-storey building. It stops. The policeman takes Alexandra's bags and gestures Alexandra to get out.

The front door is locked. The policeman rings the intercom panel on the side. The intercom buzzes back and the door unlocks.

INT - TORINO, CENTRO ACCULIENZA AMBROZIANO - DAY

Prompted by the policeman, Alexandra enters the building.

The corridor has a high vaulted ceiling. It's empty but DISTANT VOICES suggest that there are other people in the building. There are three cards attached to the notice board announcing the birth of a boy (blue) and two girls (pink).

The policeman puts down Alexandra's bags and takes out her papers.

TWO NUNS (BIANCA and BERNADETTA) in white and grey dresses appear from around the corner. They look alike except that one (BIANCA) has glasses.

BERNADETTA takes Alexandra's bags and gestures to Alexandra to follow her. Bianca remains with the policeman.

Int. – torino, centro acculienza ambroziano, corridor - day

Following the nun, Alexandra crosses a sitting area with a television and a few deep armchairs. A bucket and a mop has been abandoned the middle of the area.

At the end of the corridor a colourfully dressed pregnant WOMAN FROM THE IVORY COAST speaks on the phone, yelling, gesturing, thrusting coins into the slot. She violently hangs up.

Gesticulating in the air and talking to herself in profound indignation, she walks away from the phone. Bernadetta stops her.

BERNADETTA

(in Italian)

You have not finished the floor... This is Alexandra. She is new.

The woman neither changes her mood nor stops. She nods to Alexandra, picks up the mop, splashes water on the floor and starts to swab it mercilessly…

Int. – torino, centro acculienza ambroziano, alexandra’s room - day

Bernadetta and Alexandra enter a small room with a window looking out onto a backyard enclosed by other buildings. The room has a neatly made bed and a baby's cot.

BERNADETTA (CONT'D)

(in Italian)

Change, wash and come - it's lunch time.

Bernadetta leaves.

Alexandra takes off her coat and sits down on the bed.

Alexandra hears BERNADETTA'S VOICE as she moves along the corridor clanging a loud bell in her hand, knocking at the doors, calling up the inhabitants.

V.O. BERNADETTA

(in Italian)

Lunch, Mileva!... Lunch, Kadisha...Lunch, Maria! Lunch, Iolanda!

There are STEPS and VOICES OF WOMEN in the corridor, following Bernadetta.

Alexandra looks outside at the distant roofs and church spires blurred in golden trembling air... an abandoned-looking garden and a dilapidated fountain in the centre of the yard... laundry swaying under gusts of wind...

She is very tired. She hears 'Lunch, Alexandra!' from behind the door but cannot answer, and just curls up on the bed.

Bernadetta knocks at the door and enters. She sees Alexandra lying on the bed and shouts into the corridor:

BERNADETTA

(in Italian)

Quickly, we need a doctor!

EXT - TORINO, STATION - AFTERNOON

In the crowd of other passengers Laila walks along the platform towards the Torino station.

int - TORINO, STATION - AFTERNOON

Laila crosses the big gloomy hall of the station.

EXT - TORINO, STATION -AFTERNOON

A plaza in front of the station: a few taxis waiting for passengers; a busy street with trams…

Across the street - Piazza di Roma: the grandeur of a baroque arcade on the sides, a park with a fountain in the middle. 

Crowds of homeless people and immigrants swamp the fountain, some sleeping on the grass, some talking in groups...

Laila hails a taxi.

EXT - TORINO, OLD FOLKS HOME - AFTERNOON

The taxi drives up a narrow street.

A street sign says 'via de la Montagna'.

The street ends at the top of the hill, beside big cast-iron gates with a code lock and a ring button. The number '6' is on the gate and a sign says 'Pallazzo dalla Principessa Savoya'.

Laila gets out. The taxi leaves.

Laila rings at the gate. Behind the gate is an imposing yellow building with garden grounds in front of it.

A PODGY WOMAN WITH SHORT HAIR comes out of the building and walks towards the gates. She is dressed in an overcoat on top of a white nurse's uniform. The woman presses the button and passes through the gates, which slowly closes behind her.  She walks past Laila without paying any attention.

LAILA

Can I go in?

The woman turns around and looks at Laila with puzzlement.

LAILA (CONT'D)

I am looking for a young woman... Pregnant... With a couple of bags... She would have come here last night...

She gestures to explain what she means. The woman shrugs her shoulders.

PODGY WOMAN

(in Italian)

It's all just a front, no security, anyone who wants can come in..

She suddenly becomes very angry and talkative.

PODGY WOMAN (CONT'D)

(in Italian)

Everywhere it's like this. Our government has no discipline, just an appearance. They let all these immigrants come here to steal our jobs and to kill us with their bombs!

She waves her hand and pushes the gate open.

Further down in the garden a WOMAN is pushing a wheelchair with a CROUCHING FIGURE.

TWO VERY OLD WOMEN trod, supporting each other, along an alley which opens onto a terrace with a beautiful view of the mountains.

A few old apple trees and a low rock fence mark the border of the terrace. A few white plastic chairs are scattered around. Two people on wheelchairs, a VERY OLD MAN and A VERY OLD WOMAN, sit under an apple tree, facing the mountains.

Laila looks around as if she hopes to find some trace of Alexandra, if not Alexandra herself. But she is nowhere to be seen.

EXT - TORINO, MONASTERY OF CAPUCHINS - AFTERNOON

An old monastery not far from the old people's home: a small church, and a two-storey building facing a paved yard.

A sign on the wall in Italian, Rumanian and Serbian: 'Bread is handed out between 5pm and 6pm to those in need only. Please don't throw wrapping in the yard.'

Under the sign there is a quickly moving subdued queue of people, MOSTLY WHITE MEN, receiving free bread from an older bearded MONK IN A BROWN GOWN.

Laila watches the queue. Nobody eats there: having taken their share, the men put bread in their pockets or plastic bags and hurry away. SOME glance at Laila with hostility and suspicion.

As the LAST MAN in the queue gets his allowance and walks away, Laila approaches the monk, who turns to her with a questioning smile.

LAILA

Do you speak French?

MONK

A little.

As they talk, the monk calmly cleans the leftovers of bread. His French is correct and old-fashioned.

LAILA

I am looking for a young Russian woman. She is pregnant and doesn't have a place to stay, and I thought, perhaps...

MONK

I haven't seen any pregnant women here.

LAILA

Are there other places like this that hand out food?

MONK

A couple... but the people who come, they tend to... group together, if you like. Here we have East-Europeans. In the Franciscans' they have mostly Africans. There is also food at St.Paolo's church but only Arabs come there... There are a few women shelters. You might want to try those...

A fiery-looking mud-coloured cat appears on the threshold. The monk pats it gently.

MONK (CONT'D)

Just a moment.

He leaves Laila and the meowing cat on the threshold and disappears in the corridor.

A heavily breathing COUPLE in their forties dressed in cheap new clothes and trainers, appear at the door. They look at Laila with apprehension.

WOMAN

(turning to the man, in Bulgarian)

It's over now! I told you we would be late!

MAN

(in Bulgarian)

As if you really need it. It's cheaper to go to a supermarket than to climb up this hill every day.

WOMAN

(in Bulgarian, whispering)

Don't talk here, Stanislav.

They glance suspiciously at Laila.

The monk re-appears from the corridor carrying a bowl with milk and a piece of paper. The couple immediately starts smiling.

WOMAN (CONT'D)

(in a sort of Italian)

I'm so sorry we are late...

The monk puts the bowl down for the cat, gives Laila the paper and gives the couple their bread. The couple swiftly disappears.

Laila looks at the paper.

MONK

(to Laila)

This is a list of shelters. There is one, which is specially for pregnant women...

EXT - TORINO, MARKET PLACE - DAY

A taxi with Laila passes the city market with suspicious figures lingering around its margins.

Around the corner, there is a queue of battered cars and a small gathering of shabbily dressed men - these are 'cabbies', the illegal taxis of Torino. A normal taxi, Laila's, looks out of place here...

EXT - TORINO, CENTRO ACCULIENZA AMBROZIANO - DAY

The taxi turns into a narrow deserted street and stops. Laila gets out.

As the taxi leaves, Laila walks along the street, looking for a sign but there is none.

She checks the address and stops by a large closed gate with a door in it under a CCTV camera. Laila tries the gate - it's locked. She pushes the button, but the door and the gate remain locked.

Laila looks around and sees another gate a few metres to the left up the street. She walks there.

She finds herself in an inner passage paved with old stones, echoing her steps. As she turns the corner, she sees a small yard. Further to her right, at the far side of the yard, is a half-destroyed brick fence. A wheelbarrow with bricks and building tools has been abandoned beside it. Laila looks around: there is nobody there. Laila climbs over the fence.

Another paved passage leads her to an overgrown garden with some dilapidated sculptures and a fountain in the middle of it. Two PREGNANT WOMEN, one black and one Asian, are sitting on a bench. They look at Laila without curiosity and turn away.

ANOTHER PREGNANT WOMAN in the second floor window puts washing on a line, which stretches across the yard from one side of the building to the other.

A WOMAN WITH A SMALL BABY in her arms crosses the yard and disappears behind a glass door. Laila follows her.

INT - TORINO, CENTRO ACCULIENZA AMBROZIANO, eNtrance - DAY (CONT.)

Laila enters the building. The woman with the baby has disappeared. Laila sees a staircase leading to the upper floor and goes up.

INT - TORINO, CENTRO ACCULIENZA AMBROZIANO, corridor - DAY (CONT.)

Laila passes by the pink and blue cards attached to the notice board, and turns into a long corridor with windows along one side and doors along another. Its shining marble floor reflects the light coming from outside.

Laila walks along the corridor.

In a room with a half-open door a PhilippinO woman is changing her baby's nappy.

Somebody's hurrying steps are heard behind Laila. She turns around.

A NUN (Bernadetta) runs along the corridor towards her.

BERNADETTA

(in Italian, loud)

It's forbidden!

Laila waits till Bernadetta is closer.

LAILA

Excuse me. I am looking for...

BERNADETTA

(in Italian)

Who are you? How did you get in here?

LAILA

A friend, Alexandra, a pregnant Russian... Is she here?

Bernadetta looks at Laila with suspicion.

BERNADETTA

Alexandra?

LAILA

Alexandra, pregnant...

(she gestures 'pregnant')

...Russian...

BERNADETTA

(in Italian)

What do you want her for?

LAILA

I'm her friend, I need to know how she is.

Bernadetta relaxes.

BERNADETTA

(in Italian)

She's not here. She is in a hospital... Hospital of St. Guillermo...

INT - TORINO, HOSPITAL - DAY

With flowers and bags, Laila walks determinedly through the corridor of a maternity unit in the city hospital.

It's visiting hour: FAMILIES OF PATIENTS, loud and emotional, fill the rooms with voices and movement. Expressions of joy, greetings, children running along the corridor...

INT - TORINO, HOSPITAL, alexandra’s room - DAY

Laila enters a three-bed room. The first bed is occupied but empty at the moment. There is a bunch of flowers on the bedside table. The middle bed is neatly made, waiting for a new arrival. On the third bed, closest to the window, a woman is half-sitting alone, her back to the door. It's Alexandra, in a blue hospital dressing gown, and now very thin. The Akhmatova book, closed, is lying besides her. Her eyes are fixed on something far away outside the window.

LAILA

Alexandra!

Alexandra turns round in surprise. She attempts to get up but Laila stops her.

ALEXANDRA

How did you find me?

LAILA

The nun in the shelter sent me here...

She notices Alexandra's new thin look and panics. Her hands shake as she unwraps the flowers.

LAILA

Wait we need something to put the flowers in...

She hastily looks around, picks an empty plastic water bottle and fills it in the sink.

ALEXANDRA

I had a baby boy last night... He'll have to be in incubator for a few days, but I feed him...

Laila drops the bottle. It falls on the floor spilling the water. Laila grabs tissues from a table by the sink and wipes the water.

LAILA

(with great relief)

Don't move I'll clean it myself… You have a boy, you have a baby boy, Alexandra!

Alexandra smiles happily.

Laila throws away wet tissues, fills the bottle again and washes her hands and face.

She puts the bottle with the flowers by Alexandra’s bed and takes out grapes and persimmons.

LAILA

…I didn't know what you would like and what you could eat… You should tell me and I'll bring more…

ALEXANDRA

Thank you, it's plenty.

LAILA

Please tell me…

She stops. Instead, she picks up the Akhmatova book, opens, leafs through...

LAILA

One of Akhmatova's poems you translated was about a life that went astray. How does it sound in Russian?

Alexandra finds the page. Laila listens, transfixed.

ALEXANDRA

(reading in Russian)

…I, like a river, Have been turned aside by this harsh age… But sometimes a madcap air in spring, Or a combination of words in a chance book, or somebody's smile, suddenly Draws me into that non-existent life… In such a year would such have taken place, Something else in another: travelling, seeing, Thinking, remembering, entering a new love Like entering a mirror, with a dull sense of treason, and a wrinkle that only yesterday Was absent… But if, from that life, I could step aside, And see my life such as is, today, Then at last I'd known what envy means.

Alexandra closes the book. In the returning silence they can hear voices and laughter in the corridor.

ALEXANDRA

I have a tape with Akhmatova reading her poems... recorded just before she died…

LAILA

Alexandra, I never wanted you to leave. I had no idea my aunt would speak to you.  I am sorry. Would you… Would you return with me to Paris?

A LITTLE BOY stops in the door and looks at Alexandra and Laila. Then a grown-up hand pulls him away. Alexandra turns away from the door and looks at Laila.

ALEXANDRA

It's very kind. But I shouldn't. I can't. In any case I can't move anywhere for a while, the baby's too small. I have a room in the shelter. Have you seen it? It's nice, isn't it? It has a private bath... I can stay there a few weeks, a few months, perhaps. I’ll learn Italian. And besides... I have to find someone here, I promised to help with an archive...

LAILA

Countess Greneff? She died about a year ago, in an old folks home…

ALEXANDRA

Died?!…

She is silent for a moment, then looks at Laila.

ALEXANDRA (CONT'D)

Perhaps someone there still has the papers, I should at least try, what do you think?

A NURSE appears at the door, interrupting.

NURSE

(in Italian)

Visitors should go now. Feeding time in ten minutes.

She disappears.

LAILA

What did she say?

ALEXANDRA

It's time to feed the babies. Do you want to see him before you go?

LAILA

Yes.

Laila helps Alexandra to get out of bed. Alexandra adjusts her dressing gown. She touches one of the persimmons on the bedside table.

ALEXANDRA

Thank you, I really love them...

She suddenly thinks about something.

ALEXANDRA (CONT'D)

Would you wait for me, I'll only be a moment.

Laila leaves the room.

INT - TORINO, HOSPITAL, corridor - DAY

Laila waits in the corridor, which is now almost empty.

At the far end a WOMAN IN A GOWN is saying good-bye to AN OLD COUPLE, A MAN and the boy who earlier peeked into Alexandra's room. A sound of crying babies is heard from afar.

Alexandra comes out of the room. She holds something wrapped in a plastic bag.

INT - TORINO, HOSPITAL, premature ward - DAY

A glass wall, behind which babies are lying in transparent cribs, some have a glass dome with a light placed above them. They have name-tags on the sides of the cribs.

Alexandra points to one of the cribs, a few metres away from the glass.

ALEXANDRA

This one.

The baby is wearing a blue pyjamas, one among those which Laila washed and dried.

LAILA

What's his name?

ALEXANDRA

I don't know yet... He looks like my father.

LAILA

Have you called your parents?

ALEXANDRA

No. I don't have a card.

LAILA

Oh, Alexandra! Wait... I bought one today...

She opens her purse, rummages through it till she finds an Italian phone card. She holds it out to Alexandra.

LAILA (CONT'D)

Take it... I should go now.

Alexandra gives Laila the plastic bag.

ALEXANDRA

It's something for you. Open it when you leave the hospital, will you?

LAILA

I don't want a farewell present from you, Alexandra.

For a brief moment Laila holds Alexandra in her arms, then retreats.

Alexandra remains by the glass wall with the babies behind it. She looks at Laila sadly walking away along the corridor, wrapped in her shawl.

ALEXANDRA

Laila!

Laila turns around.

ALEXANDRA (CONT'D)

Will you come tomorrow?

Laila smiles.

LAILA

Yes of course I will.

EXT - TORINO, HOSPITAL - DAY

As Laila exits the hospital, she stops and unwraps the plastic bag.

Inside, is a tape with a label in Russian 'Anna Akhmatova'. A note says in Alexandra's writing: 'with gratitude, from Alexandra'.

Laila turns around to look at the hospital windows.

There is a woman's figure in the third floor window, too far to be able to discern who she is.

EXT -TORINO, STREETS - DAY (CONT.)

Laila walks away along the street, across the market, now deserted, with empty boxes and other rubbish scattered around... She walks and walks... up and up the hill till she arrives at a view point at the very top. She stops. And the whole of the city, the mountains, and the horizon are spread out in front of Laila...

As we see Laila walking away from the hospital, we hear the sound of dialing, a telephone rings and is picked up. The voices of Alexandra and her father, first very clear then gradually fading away under the sound of the city.

V.O. ALEXANDRA

(in Russian)

Dad?...

V.O. GARIK

(in Russian)

Alexandra! Where have you been?! Your mother calls every day mad with worry, blaming me... I can't sleep! I almost had a heart attack! You are grown-up now, you have to be responsible...

V.O. ALEXANDRA

(in Russian)

Dad, I had a baby.

V.O. GARIK

(in Russian)

That's exactly what I feared! Your mother...

He suddenly stops shouting.

V.O. GARIK

(in Russian)

When?

V.O. ALEXANDRA

(in Russian)

Yesterday. It's a boy.

epilogue. EXT - PARIS, streets - DAY

(this scene has a different tone comparing with the rest of the film)

A grey winter day in Paris. The water of the fountains and the water of the rain intermingle, the head-lights of cars reflect in the wet asphalt of the streets, and cafes with their little tables behind big glass windows become particularly attractive to a shivering passer-by...

The camera moves along the faces of passers-by, along figures sitting at the tables in the cafes, trying to find the woman, whose familiar voice we can distinguish in the mixed sound of a big city…

It seems that we see her, slowly walking under the rain, under a big black umbrella… then in a wet window of a restaurant on the street corner... By the restaurant entrance there is a counter with oysters and bright halves of lemon arranged on the ice-cubes...

AUNT

There's too much rain in this country… I am well here, but I wait, and wait, and wait… What am I waiting for, Laila?…

These oysters are good, Laila, you would not find anything like this anywhere else… I assume the little Daniel is fine… She is bizarre, your Russian, but you are bizarre as well…

The voice disappears for a moment, drowned by the siren of a passing ambulance and a loud conversation of passers-by, then it is heard again…

We see Aunt at a table in a café. She opens a small parcel, taking out a letter, an audio tape and a box with a walkman…

aunt

…What is it?

v.o. LAILA

It’s your birthday present. Listen.

…Aunt alone, under her black umbrella, is standing in front of a cinema. She has a pair of headphones on her ears. She is looking at A WORKER taking off the poster of a Russian film with Varya’s portrait. An old recording of a deep female voice reading Russian verses (Akhmatova) is heard.

Aunt

But it's in Russian! I understand nothing...

v.o. LAILA

Just listen. 

Aunt turns away from the poster and slowly walks along the street, hidden under her umbrella. The voice of Akhmatova fades away. Now it’s Alexandra’s voice, reading the same verse in French… and then – Laila’s voice reading it in Arabic.

Aunt

How it’s beautiful, Laila! I always knew you have talents, if only you used them more often!…

Aunt stops and waits for Laila to catch up with her. Laila still has her old shawl, but her appearance somehow changed – she looks younger, brighter. She is carrying a teddy-bear in a transparent plastic bag with a festive ribbon.

aunt

…Now Laila, when you come for dinner tonight make sure she is dressed really well. And put some colour on her lips, will you?

laila

Why is it so, darling? You promised there’d be no divorced lawyers!

aunt

Oh no lawyers, just a single doctor, a very respectable young man, a friend of Janine’s son…

Without letting Laila say anything in response, Aunt kisses her and descends into metro.

CU: Smiling, Laila watches her disappear.

The noise of the city increases in a tidal wave, drowning Laila in its mixture of voices and languages, car horns, evening bells, and poems

EXT - TORINO, HOSPITAL - DAY

CU: Laila’s smile disappears.

Laila is still in front of the hospital, looking at its dark windows.

She turns around and walks away.

THE END