The Smoke of Desire By Susan Lee Hahn
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The Smoke of Desire By Susan Lee Hahn FADE IN: EXT. ITALIAN COUNTRYSIDE - DAY The Tuscan countryside rolls by as ISABELLA PIACENZA watches from inside a moving train. Sensuous hills of amber, green, and burnt orange give way to vineyards and farmhouses. Her face full of wonder has a timeless, Botticelli-like beauty. INT. TRAIN- DAY Isabella clutches a cannister tightly in her lap as she searches the countryside as if for an answer. In her thirties, she exudes a timeless grace and a spark of passion. EXT. TUSCAN VILLAGE - DAY The train stops at a remote village perched on top of a hill. Isabella descends with the cannister and leaves her suitcase at the ticket counter at the station. She walks into the town. It’s a hot summer day, just after lunch and the place is basically deserted. She ascends the Campanile, the bell tower of the church in the quiet Piazza. P.O.V. Isabella as she looks out over the village and the countryside. She opens up the cannister and lets the ashes fly freely, gracefully in the wind. ISABELLA Ti amo, Mamma. An ancient looking man arrives at the top to ring the bell. He speaks quickly to Isabella in garbled Italian. ISABELLA (CONT’D) No parlo molto Italiano. I don’t speak Italian. Ma Certo!
OLD MAN You are Italian, no?
ISABELLA My mother was Italian... Isabella gets choked up. He notices the container.
2. OLD MAN Ho capito. Death is a good sleep, for the anima- the soul. She thanks him and descends. The bells ring loudly. She leaves the container on the steps of the church and leaves. EXT. TRAIN STATION/FLORENCE, ITALY - DAY Isabella steps off the train, which hisses menacingly. She walks between patches of sunlight and shadows. CUT TO: EXT. SANTA MARIA NOVELLA - DAY Isabella crosses the piazza as more church bells ring out. An old woman throws a bucket of water onto the cobblestone street. Steam rises. The cobblestones shine like little mirrors reflecting the sky. EXT. NEARBY SIDE STREET - DAY Isabella searches for the Pensione Dodici Chiavi- Hotel of the Twelve Keys and finds it on the top two floors of an ancient looking building. She rings the doorbell and gets buzzed in immediately. INT. THE PENSIONE DODICI CHIAVI/HALLWAY - DAY The hallway and stairs are dark except for a column of light coming from the skylights up above. INT. THE PENSIONE DODICI CHIAVI - DAY Isabella meets LA SIGNORA, an elderly woman of great beauty and elegance. She hugs Isabella and seems surprisingly overjoyed to see her. LA SIGNORA Welcome! Let me get you something to drink. Un caffee? La Signora quickly consults a very old parchment paper and pinches in a bit of this and that until the smell and taste are just right. She brings it to Isabella who hesitates.
3. ISABELLA I don’t usually drink coffee. LA SIGNORA It’s my special blend. The aroma draws her in. She sips it and looks revived. ISABELLA This is delicious. Thank you. LA SIGNORA Come, I’ll show you your room. La Signora is suddenly overtaken with great emotion. ISABELLA What’s the matter? LA SIGNORA (fighting tears) You look so much like her. Who?
LA SIGNORA My daughter. I had a daughter once. ISABELLA I’m so sorry. Not that you had a daughter, but thatLA SIGNORA Parents should never outlive their children. It’s hard to let go of your mother, but it would be worse the other way around. Believe me. ISABELLA How did you know about my mother? They arrive at her room. La Signora shows her in. INT. ISABELLA’S ROOM - DAY The bedroom has a spectacular view of Florence. Isabella unpacks a framed photo of her and her mother, which has cracked during her travels. She lays down to nap. The sunlight changes from day to night to day. La Signora wakes her with a coffee and breakfast.
4. LA SIGNORA (with a gentle tone) I’ll show you my precious city before I take you to your class. ISABELLA Thank you. I’d love that! EXT. PENSIONE DODICI CHIAVI - DAY The two of them exit. La Signora walks with a youthful bounce and is dressed in a colorful outfit that looks like a costume from another era. They set off to see the sights. A SERIES OF SHOTS La Signora shows Isabella the wonders of the city. She’s greeted by the locals as if she were the queen of Florence. EXT. THE UFFIZI GALLERY - DAY They walk under the archway where artists sit with their easels and draw renderings of tourists. CARLO PIAGENTINI, A tall, handsome artist in his early thirties sketches a portrait but keeps his eyes glued to Isabella and La Signora. INT. UFFIZI - DAY They walk through the gallery adorned with Renaissance paintings. They stop in front of La Nascere di Venere (Birth of Venus) and La Primavera (Springtime) by Botticelli. LA SIGNORA Botticelli was such a dreamer. Kindhearted and filled with romantic notions about women. ISABELLA You talk as if you knew him personally. LA SIGNORA I do know him personally, just look at his work. Only a great artist puts his own soul into a painting. ISABELLA The expressions are so angelic.
5. LA SIGNORA He believed in the divine in all of us and that our souls carried sparks from angels. ISABELLA Or maybe women were just more beautiful back in his day. Perhaps.
LA SIGNORA CUT TO:
INT. BRUNO’S ANTERIOR ROOM - DAY Close up of a Botticelli portrait of a woman who looks similar to the subjects of the last two paintings. The portrait also looks like a younger version of La Signora. The portrait looms over the shoulder of BRUNO MEDICI who sits in a room that’s filled with high tech monitors, computers, and a piece of apparatus that looks like a small dialysis machine. He’s frighteningly old and decrepid looking. He hooks himself up to the machine and a strange, gold and silvery liquid shoots into his veins. The Alchemy works in seconds. He settles into a trancelike state and then his body transforms to a younger version of himself. He looks up at the portrait. BRUNO Good morning Sophia, my love. We will be reunited again and soon. I can feel it in my veins! He laughs at the irony and breathes in new vigor for life. CUT TO: INT. UFFIZI GALLERY - DAY La Signora stops in front of Michelangelo’s beautiful, yet hideous painting of Medusa with snakes for hair and a terrifying expression. She smiles as if it’s an inside joke. ISABELLA That’s kind of haunting. LA SIGNORA I think it was meant to be a joke.
6. ISABELLA How do you know? La Signoria keeps walking. CUT TO: EXT. THE LOGGIA - DAY They walk across the Loggia in the Piazza Signoria. Several famous replicas line the galleria - Perseus, The Rape of the Sabine, The David. While beautiful from afar, there’s also something dark and powerful in these sculptures. EXT. THE GHIBERTTI DOORS/BATTISTERO - DAY Isabella marvels at the bronze relief of Adam and the expulsion from Eden. La Signora takes a swig from her flask of coffee. She doesn’t offer Isabella any. ISABELLA You’re just drinking coffee, right? LA SIGNORA Of course! I only like my coffee, but if you’d like one, we can stop anywhere. ISABELLA I usually don’t drink coffee because it keeps me up- but yours was delicious. It put me right to sleep last night. LA SIGNORA You were probably just tired from the journey. EXT. THE ACCADEMIA - DAY La Signora and Isabella are escorted into the galleria ahead of the waiting crowd. La Signora’s strange, colorful garb makes her look like a throwback from the Renaissance. INT. THE ACCADEMIA - DAY Isabella and La Signora approach the famous sculpture of the, “David” by Michelangelo. Isabella has tears streaming down her cheeks when she first sees him. La Signora watches her.
7. ISABELLA It’s so magnificent. LA SIGNORA It makes you wonder if God himself didn’t climb into Michelangelo’s body and help him out. ISABELLA Imagine if Michelangelo could have lived forever, how much he would have created by now! LA SIGNORA If Michelangelo thought he was going to live forever he wouldn’t have created one thing! ISABELLA Why not? He’s an artist, surely he would have filled his days with painting and sculpture. LA SIGNORA He would have lost his passion. It’s the race against time that gave Michelangelo his creative power. EXT. THE ACCADEMIA - DAY La Signora and Isabella exit out a side door and into a courtyard that’s set up with some easels all facing the center. Isabella looks wide-eyed. ISABELLA The light is perfect. LA SIGNORA Ah. Here he is now. Just then LO FREDO - a small, wiry ancient-looking man appears as if out of no where. He glides across the courtyard with the energy of a fireball. LA SIGNORA (CONT’D) Lo Fredo! So good to see you. LO FREDO And I am always enchanted to see you, Signora. Your beauty grows with each passing year.
8. LA SIGNORA And I’ve had more than my share of passing years. The two of them laugh. Then they kiss on both cheeks. CUT TO: INT. BRUNO’S ANTERIOR ROOM - DAY Bruno watches them kiss on a monitor in his private lair. There’s obviously a camera in Lo Fredo’s courtyard. Bruno zooms in on Isabella’s face. This is his first close look at her and he’s stunned. BRUNO (to himself) My God! LA SIGNORA (on the monitor) May I present to you, Isabella Piacenza. Your new studentessa. Isabella, this is Lo Fredo - the most famous art teacher in all of Europe- ever. Bruno examines Isabella closely as she converses with Lo Fredo - her eyes, her features- he’s visibly moved. CUT TO: EXT. ACCADEMIA COURTYARD - DAY Lo Fredo takes Isabella’s hand, kisses it and then turns looks at the inside of her palm. LO FREDO (Italian with subtitles) She’s beautiful. If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes I wouldn’t have believed it. ISABELLA I’m delighted to be studying with you. It’s really an honor. LO FREDO Tell me, Isabella what are you doing after my workshop?
9. ISABELLA I don’t know. Maybe some traveling. LO FREDO You don’t have anyone waiting for you back home- A husband? Family? ISABELLA My mother died recently and I don’t have any other family. LO FREDO No fidanzato? How do you say? LA SIGNORA He wants to know if you’re engaged. ISABELLA No, but you’re a little old for me. CUT TO: INT. BRUNO’S ANTERIOR ROOM - DAY Bruno laughs and then he zooms in on La Signora. She stands erect, almost as if she knows he’s watching. LO FREDO You know the Medici Artist colony? La Signora stiffens at the Medici name. ISABELLA Of course. It has always been a dream of mine to go there. LO FREDO We’ll see how you do in my workshop. I’m so glad he found you. ISABELLA So glad who found me? Lo Fredo and La Signora exchange a look but don’t answer. LO FREDO I’m so glad we found you. Or you found us. My English is not good. La Signora looks directly into the hidden camera that leads to Bruno’s screen and gives him a direct, cautionary look.
10. EXT. PENSIONE DODICI CHIAVI - DAY They arrive back home. La Signora looks worn out. Isabella opens the heavy door for her. ISABELLA Are you all right? LA SIGNORA I’ll be fine. I just need a little rest and some coffee. La Signora looks around as if suddenly on the alert. The street and alleys appear empty. They enter their building. La Signora looks out one more time as if to let the stalker know that she’s aware of his presence. Carlo, the painter from under the Uffizi slips back into the shadows of a doorway. He knows that she knows. CUT TO: EXT. THE STREETS OF FLORENCE - DAY Isabella glides through the streets by herself. She wears a colorful shawl, (reminiscent of La Signora’s clothes) and carries herself with the same elegant air. After a couple of weeks in Florence, she has transformed and acclimated. Carlo trails her, unseen. She passes a gallery and goes in. INT. GANDOLFINI GALLERY - DAY The upscale art gallery has only a few visitors. A security camera follows her as she leafs through charcoal drawings of nudes. She strains to hear voices from a back room. MICHAEL DONATI, (forties, a New Yorker of Italian descent) emerges with the gallery owner, ALDO GANDOLFINI. MICHAEL It’s not that I don’t appreciate it. I do. The technique is superb. I just can’t sell this in New York. Michael looks up and his eyes meet Isabella’s. There’s an instant connection. Aldo tries to keep the conversation enlivened. Michael keeps his eyes on Isabella as she turns her attention back to the drawings.