INT, - ST. PETERSBURG CONSERVATORY REHEARSAL ROOM - 1982 – DAY
SLAVA SLONIN, an ordinary eleven year old Russian boy, is playing the Vivaldi impeccably (though unenthusiastically) on his cello.
His teacher, LUDMILLA NIKOLAEVNA MEYER, a stern, middle-aged woman, listens, displeased. She claps her pudgy, ringed hands, interrupting his performance.
Slava, Slava, music comes from here.
(slaps her round stomach)
From here. And then it rises to the heart –
Slava averts his eyes as...
Ludmilla Nikolaevna’s hands rise from her stomach and pass over her abundant bosom.
-- and finally it reaches the mind. Vivaldi isn’t notes,
Slava shifts in his seat, examining his jagged fingernails.
Feeling before understanding, Slava. You must
remember that tomorrow when you are on stage.
Slava picks up his bow and begins the phrase where he left off. He again plays impeccably, but without feeling, to the end.
Well, let’s leave it for now. But you must promise me
you’ll play it from beginning to end once more tonight.
I promise, Ludmilla Nikolaevna.
Slava gathers his sheet music, begins to pack away his cello.
Ludmilla Nikolaevna buttons her shabby overcoat and picks up a colorful silk scarf.
Will your mother be coming to the concert?
Actually, her conference ends at the end of the week.
But because of the concert she’s cutting it short and coming
tomorrow on the Red Arrow.
Ludmilla, hearing a strain in his voice, studies Slava.
Slava, I’m sure that your mother will be very proud of you.
Just remember, feelings, FEELINGS!
Slava has his coat on and is wrapping his scarf around his neck.
Yes, Ludmilla Nikolaevna. See you tomorrow.
Slava leaves the rehearsal room, softly shutting the door.
EXT, - THE STREETS OF ST. PETERSBURG - MOMENTS LATER
The door of a streetcar opens, and Slava steps out, struggling with his cello.
Bent by the weight of his cello, he trudges along the snowy streets and black canals of St. Petersburg, until he comes to the edge of a park where some kids are playing hockey.
Slava looks over at the kids and then at a red-faced ICE CREAM VENDOR, who hops in the cold, clapping and blowing on his mittened hands. He waves to Slava.
Slava walks over.
So, maestro, you ready for tomorrow?
I don’t see any enthusiasm.
What did your teacher say?
She says I need more feeling.
See? What did I tell you? Listen. Learn.
Slava examines the price list for the ice cream, then looks at the vendor.
I’ll take a vanilla cream on a sugar cone.
I thought your mother said categorically no ice cream.
She never said such a thing.
The vendor fixes a sugar cone and hands it to Slava, who hands him 20 kopeks in return.
Slava shoulders his cello, licks his ice cream, and trudges over to the hockey rink, where there’s a game in full swing.
EXT. HOCKEY RINK - MOMENTS LATER
Still licking his ice cream, Slava stands with his face against a chain link fence, watching...
His friends play hockey.
Vova, the leader of the group, notices him and skates over.
Hey, Slavka. Dump that coffin. Where are your skates?
(looks longingly at the rink)
No, I definitely can’t play today.
We need a goalie.
Slava shakes his head.
Come on. You can play forward, too.
No, seriously. Tomorrow is my concert.
Vova shrugs and skates off. The boys resume their play.
Slava watches for awhile and then turns for home.
INT. APARTMENT – LATER
Slava enters the foyer of a tasteful, orderly apartment. He deposits his cello and sits down on a foyer bench. For a long time he stares down at...
His brown dress shoes. Finally, he unlaces his shoes, and wrestles them off, putting on his house slippers.
INT. KITCHEN - MOMENTS LATER
Slava walks to the kitchen table, where he finds a small spiral notebook. He picks up the notebook.
MOTHER’S VOICE (V.O.)
Slava: heat up soup for you and papa; iron your shirt; polish your shoes; wash the dishes; CATEGORICALLY NO HOCKEY; and above all, practice, practice, practice.
Slava sighs, puts the list down.
SERIES OF SHOTS:
A) Slava heats up Borsch.
B) Slava polishes his shoes.
C) Slava eats his Borsch.
D) Slava does dishes.
E) Slava irons his shirt.
F) Close up on Slava’s hands as he practices cello.
PULL OUT to reveal...
Slava sitting in the middle of his bedroom, practicing his cello in hockey gear and skates.
Slava rolls his eyes back in his head, trying to imitate a feeling that he doesn’t have. A picture of his mother smiles down at him.
(as he plays)
Alright, Mama. Feeling before understanding.
Slava is interrupted by the SOUNDS of his apartment door flying open, and the ROAR of a small crowd of people, laughing.
Slava puts the cello aside and kicks off his skates. With the bow in his hand he walks into the foyer.
A party of six people, each in a different stage of inebriation, cluster in the foyer. Among them (not yet drunk) is Slava’s PAPA, a going-to-seed athletic man of forty.
Slava takes stock of the crowd, who seems to be settling in for the night. He sees...
A FAT MAN in a too-small leather jacket, carrying two bags of groceries;
A THIN MAN with a hook nose carrying eight bottles of vodka (one between each finger) and a guitar under his arm;
Two heavily lipstick-ed women wearing furs. Each stops on her way to the living room to pat Sieva’s cheeks, exhaling lipstick and port fumes into his face.
Slava frees himself from the women, grabs his Papa by the sleeve, and drags him away from the crowd.
Papa, Mama’s coming tomorrow. Remember?
Of course I remember. She comes in at 8:25 on the Red Arrow.
Did you forget my concert tomorrow?
No, I didn’t forget.
Then why are all these people here?
They’re on their way to Alec’s birthday party.
They just wanted to warm up.
But Papa, I have to practice.
Well, then practice. We won’t bother you.
He turns to the crowd.
Everyone -- SSSHHHHH! My son has a concert
tomorrow. He has to practice.
Suddenly the volume falls. The crowd speaks in slurred whispers.
Slava looks around cautiously. He sees...
The women still have their furs on.
OK, then. I’ll be in my room.
INT. SLAVA’S BEDROOM - MOMENTS LATER
Slava sits with his cello in position and raises his bow. He begins the piece. He’s not even a few measures into it when he HEARS competing GUITAR MUSIC and the SLAPPING SOUND of Russian folk dancing.
Again, Slava puts the cello aside and, with the bow in his hand, walks to the living room.
INT. LIVING ROOM - MOMENTS LATER
Slava grabs his father by the sleeve and drags him away from the brewing party. He leans close to his father, sniffs, and looks searchingly in his father’s eyes.
Papa, are you drinking again?
Me? No! Of course not. You know your mother
doesn’t let me drink.
But Papa, I can’t practice with all this noise.
Slava looks at...
VERY QUICK SERIES OF SHOTS:
A) Shots of vodka are poured.
B) Cans of herring are pried open.
C) A man and woman make out in a corner.
D) A fat man plays spoons on one of Mama’s treasured plates.
You have to ask them to leave.
In an hour, Slavochka. Let them warm up. It’s awfully cold outside.
But Papa, what about my concert? I have to practice.
Slava, you know that piece backwards by now. What you need is a break. Why don’t you go and play
But Papa, Mama said CATEGORICALLY NO HOCKEY.
What does Mama know about hockey? She’s just
afraid you’ll hurt your hands. I’ll give you my hockey gloves.
Slava looks at him doubtfully.
If I go, you won’t drink, will you?
What? No, of course I won’t drink.
Do you promise?
Sure, I promise. I’ll pick you up in an hour.
For sure? Not like last time? You’re not going to forget?
(looking at his sport watch)
I’m clocking you right now. You have an hour.
EXT. HOCKEY RINK - LATER
The game is in full swing. Slava arrives, stumbling through the gate on his skates. He is carrying his recently shined brown dress shoes.
Hey Slavka! Hurry up! Vitka just left and we need somebody.
Slava skates behind the goal net and dumps his shoes with a pile of others. Then he skates over to Vova.
Good. Get in the net.
(shaking his head)
Can’t. I have a concert tomorrow. I have to watch my hands.
Vova shrugs and turns to TOLSTYAK, a chubby kid in large glasses.
OK, Tolstyak. It’s you in the net.
Me? Why me?
Vova gives him an impatient look.
Tolstyak skates reluctantly to the net and plops himself in the goalie position, pushing his glasses up his nose.
The puck is dropped onto ice. Slava’s team takes it. The puck is passed almost immediately to...
Slava, who skates hard, only to be checked by...
A much BIGGER KID.
Slava recovers and skates after Bigger Kid, who maneuvers past defenders and...
SLAMS the puck past Tolstyak into the net.
Slava’s team is deflated. Vova gestures for them to gather round.
Guys! Guys! Pull it together. Slava, watch me.
I’m gonna get open.
Vova skates off and the game resumes.
SERIES OF SHOTS as the teams struggle back and forth across the ice, until...
Slava gets the puck and passes to...
Vova, who SCORES!!! -- punctuating his shot with a Gretsky celebration.
Slava raises his stick over his head, victoriously, and skates to Vova. They CLACK their sticks together, smiling.
SERIES OF DISSOLVES:
A) The same hockey rink, but fewer boys are playing.
B) Four boys (Slava among them) are still passionately involved in the game.
C) Slava plays one-on-one with Tolstyak, who is still stuck in the net.
D) Slava plays alone, bouncing the puck off the wall and shooting it, with some flair, into the net.
E) An irritated Slava looks at the sky, and then down the street in the direction of his apartment.
Skating to the bench behind the goal net, Slava sits down and leans over to pick up his shoes, to discover...
His shoes have been replaced by an inferior pair of boots, with a broken zipper.
Oh no! Now Mama is definitely going to kill me!
Slava leans down to untie his skates only to find...
The laces are tangled in a frozen knot. He can’t undo them.
Dejected, Slava’s face falls into his hands, when CHKUNG! the rink lights go off, leaving Slava alone in the darkness.
EXT. STREET - NIGHT
Slava struggles home in snow-packed skates, shivering, carrying his “new” boots under his arm.
INT. SLAVA’S APARTMENT BUILDING - LATER
Still wearing his skates, Slava limps down the hall, struggling to reach the elevator.
Slava pushes the elevator button.
He waits. The elevator doesn’t come.
Slava pushes the button again. And again. And again. Waits. Nothing.
Slava leans close to the door, listening for the SOUND of the MOTOR. He HEARS a repetitive T-KUNG, T-KUNG, T-KUNG. The elevator is stuck on another floor.
Slava kicks the elevator door.
INT. APARTMENT STAIRWELL
One hand clinging to the handrail, the other cradling his hockey stick and inferior boots, Slava struggles up the stairs.
SERIES OF SHOTS:
A) FROM ABOVE, Slava trudges up the stairs.
B) TIGHT SHOT of Slava’s skates, banging step by step.
C) Slava, halfway up, stumbles and falls to his knees.
D) Slava, on all fours, crawls from the stairwell and sees...
INT. APARTMENT HALLWAY
Two legs protruding from the elevator.
T-KUNG T-KUNG T-KUNG.
Incredulous, Slava stands and creeps to the elevator to see...
His father, unconscious on the floor, half in the elevator and half out, the elevator door banging against his ribs.
T-KUNG T-KUNG T-KUNG.
Slava, furious, jabs his father hard with his hockey stick.
But Papa is unconscious. Slava, fighting with the elevator doors, puts his father’s feet under his armpits and begins to drag his father away (the inferior boots balanced precariously on his father’s stomach).
Two feet in skates, followed by the body and then the unconscious head of Papa, pass through the frame.
INT. SLAVA’S APARTMENT FOYER - CONTINUOUS
The door flies open. Slava comes in, burdened with his papa, hockey stick, inferior boots. Slava sees...
An empty, trashed apartment. No trace of the previous order can be seen.
(stretching his words in horror)
Mama’s not going to like this.
INT. PARENTS’ BEDROOM - MOMENTS LATER
Slava pulls papa into the bedroom, and there, on Mama’s wrinkled sheets, he sees...
A DRUNKEN RED-HEAD, forty-ish, asleep under a fur coat. Slava drops his father’s feet, runs to the bed.
Lady, why are you laying here?
Slava grabs the sleeve of her fur coat.
This is my mother’s bed! Get up!
The Red-Head doesn’t react.
Come on! Get up! She’ll find you here, and it won’t be pretty.
The Red-Head wakes up, looks around, registers Slava and then his papa, lying on the floor.
She sits up in bed, looks down at herself, then stands and starts tucking in her blouse.
Slava, having difficulty, tries unsuccessfully to haul his papa onto the bed.
Let me help you.
Before he can object, the Red-Head helps Slava to heave Papa onto the bed.
(not looking at her)
The Red-Head leans over and picks up her fur, which had fallen to the floor. She turns and leaves, dragging her coat behind her.
Slava stands by the bed, breathing hard. He picks up a bottle of vodka that’s standing on the night stand.
I’m so sick of you.
INT.KITCHEN - LATER
Slava scowls as he pours a bottle of vodka into a clean sink.
WE PULL BACK TO REVEAL...
Slava standing in a clean kitchen, the empty bottle in his hand. He tosses the bottle into a nearly full can of trash.
Slava leaves the kitchen, shutting off the light.
INT. PAPA’S BEDROOM
Slava turns on a light and stands, looking at...
His father’s face, which looks innocent in sleep.
Slava pulls a blanket up under Papa’s chin and kisses his bald head.
Slava turns out the light.
INT. SLAVA’S BEDROOM
Slava enters his room and sits down on his bed. He looks at...
His bedside clock (it’s midnight),
And, finally, a picture of his mother, smiling in Red Square.
Sighing, Slava picks up the cello.
Slava plays a few measures into the piece. He strains to see...
Notes blurring and bouncing on the page.
Slava makes a mistake. He sighs and puts the cello aside.
Slava strips down to his skivvies, sets his alarm clock, and turns the picture of his Mama toward the wall.
His head hits the pillow, his eyelids flutter shut, and he falls immediately to sleep.
INT. SLAVA’S BEDROOM - LATER
KABAM! Slava’s bedroom door flies open, tossing a jagged light on a disoriented Slava.
Slava’s Papa bursts in and looms over him, menacingly.
Where’s the vodka?
Papa, what vodka?. I’m sleeping.
Slava’s Papa grabs him by the pajama collar.
Don’t lie to me! You’re just like your mother.
His father pushes him hard back onto the bed and stumbles out of the room.
Slava sits in the long slash of light pouring in from the hall, terrified.
He hears the SOUNDS of GLASS, CRASHING, and his father, SWEARING.
Slava jumps out of bed and runs to the kitchen and sees...
Papa tears the cabinets apart, looking for vodka.
Bloody footprints mark the kitchen tile.
On the floor lies a broken glass.
Papa! You’re bleeding!
Papa, on his knees, digs in a bottom drawer. He pulls out a unmarked bottle, filled with green liquid.
With his teeth he pulls the cork out, sniffs the bottle, and grimaces. He reaches for a glass.
Slava goes to his knees, next to Papa.
Stop! Papa! We clean windows with that!
Papa fills the glass to the top.
Slava tries to catch Papa’s hand, but Papa shakes him off and begins to gulp.
Slava watches the bobbing of his papa’s Adam’s apple. His eyes well with tears.
Papouliya, why do you drink? Why?
Papa finishes off the glass and drops his arm. He doesn’t bother to wipe the drool from his chin. He levels Slava with a heavy, contemptuous stare.
Because of mama!
Slava tried to understand as his father pushes past him on his way back to bed.
INT. SLAVA’S BEDROOM - LATER
Slava sits on the side of his bed, exhausted. He stares into space in deep despair. Then his eyes wander to...
(imitating his father)
Because of mama.
Slava picks up the cello and begins to play his piece. He plays beautifully, with some of the emotion that Ludmilla had asked for.
His face seems to say that maybe, just maybe, everything will be OK, when O.S he hears: AAAHHHHGGGGGAAAALLLLLAAAAAA. It’s Papa, screaming in his sleep.
The rage that has been filling Slava all day suddenly spills over.
Slava throws down his bow and rushes out of the room.
INT. PAPA’S BEDROOM
Slava stands over his father, wild-eyed, his chest heaving.
Papa! Stop it! I have to practice!
Slava grabs his father by the shirt and shakes him with all of his might.
Papa! Stop it now! PAPA!
Slava lets go of his father and stands. He pulls the pillow out from under his father’s head and begins to smother him with it.
Now will you stop? Huh? I told you to stop!
For a moment, Slava seems satisfied. But then he panics, tearing the pillow from his father’s head and shaking him violently.
Papa! Wake up! I didn’t mean it! I didn’t want to...
For a while, nothing comes from Papa. Then his eyes fly open and he glances around wildly, as if he doesn’t know where he is. Finally, he focuses on Slava.
Relieved, Slava starts to cry.
Papa, Mama’s in Moscow. She’s coming tomorrow.
In Moscow? What the hell is she doing in Moscow?
She is at the conference,remember?
Screwing around again,that BITCH!
No, Papa, you mustn’t say that. Mama loves you.
Mama LOVES you...
Suddenly, Papa’s demeanor changes. He seems to see Slava, soberly, and to realize where he is and what he’s done.
He puts his hand on Slava’s face, brushing back first his tears, and then his hair.
Loves me? And I love her. And you too, Slavochka.
More than anything...
He settles back into his pillow and continues to mutter, dreamily now.
...more than anything. Now, go to sleep. Did you
forget you have a concert in the morning?
Slava looks down at his sleeping father. He wipes his nose with his pajama sleeve.
INT. CONCERT HALL, BACKSTAGE - NEXT DAY
A sleeping Slava is awakened by someone calling his name. Slava jerks awake to see...
Ludmilla Nikolaevna, standing over him. He HEARS distant, polite APPLAUSE.
A pale, trembling, shell-shocked boy, carrying a tuba, exiting the stage.
Slava, you’re on.
INT. CONCERT HALL STAGE
Carrying his cello, Slava walks to a lonely seat in the center of a stage.
As he sits, he scans the faces of the crowd. In the middle, just a few rows back, he spots...
His father, and a beautiful, beaming woman, who shines at Slava, and waves. MAMA.
Slava smiles at her, uneasily, and sits down. He positions himself, and looks down at...
His shoes. The cheap ones that were left to him at the hockey rink the night before. He winces and looks up at...
The crowd. No one seems to notice. Everyone is hushed, waiting.
Mama most of all.
Slava’s bow strikes the first notes of the Vivaldi piece. He is but a few notes in when the unthinkable happens: he makes a mistake. He freezes, looks up to see...
Mama’s frozen smile, and his father’s guilty look of despair.
Slava looks as if he’s ready to cry, or flee. He turns to...
Ludmilla Nikolaevna. She slaps her stomach and rases her hands up over her bosoms.
Slava starts again.
This time, a WHOLLY DIFFERENT SOUND emerges from his cello: a deep sound, full of feeling. As Slava plays on, we see...
A MONTAGE OF SHOTS, INTERWOVEN WITH SHOTS OF SLAVA PLAYING CELLO:
A) Vova’s goal and Gretsky celebration;.
B) Papa gulping vodka;
C) The strain of dragging his passed-out father down the hall;
D) Papa gulping vodka;
E) The struggle on the stair case, in skates;
F) The pillow on papa’s face.
As Slava remembers, his playing grows sweeter and more melancholy, until -- MMMMMMMMMMMMMM -- the last note is drawn.
Slava doesn’t dare to lift his head. Was it bad? Was it good? At last he lifts his head to see...
Everyone looking at him with awe. And then...
A BURST OF APPLAUSE.
Slava looks at...
Mama, who is beaming at him.
Slava smiles and stands, shyly, to take his bow.
CLOSE SHOT of Mama and Papa, smiling and applauding. Mama leans over to Papa. He tilts his head toward hers.
(from the corner of her smile)
Sasha! You couldn’t find better shoes for the boy to wear?
Papa squirms, and Mama leans away, continuing to applaud and smile.
NT. TRAM - LATER
Slava and Papa sit together exhausted. In front of them sit Mama and Ludmilla, chatting animatedly.
Slava, Mama was right. Absolutely no hockey.
Only cello from now on.
Are you drunk?
It was incredible. I never imagined you had that kind of talent...
Give me a break. I want to go home and sleep.
I understand. Forgive me.
(leaning in close to Ludmilla)
I think his elbow is weak.
Yes, I noticed it, too...
Maybe he needs to practice an extra hour
Slava and Papa exit the tram. Slava turns to help his mother and Ludmilla step down. Papa lights a cigarette as the tram rolls away.
(lighting his cigarette)
Listen, Slava. Where did you dig up those ugly shoes?
Papa! My cello!
The forgotten cello leans against the back window of the tram. Through the window we see Slava and Papa run after the tram, frantically waving their arms.
Cut to black.