MAN: [writing] I did not witness the most important events in my life.
My deepest story must be told by a blind man from behind a wall, from underground.
MAN: [indistinct whispers]
[door crashing open] [gasp]
WOMAN: [in foreign language]
[door crashing open] [mixed shouts]
[in foreign language]
JAKOB: [light cough]
WOMAN: Jake, can you get me a towel?
Here you go.
I've been thinking about paper.
Paper or China?
China or paper?
I think it's paper. What?
First year anniversary.
That's next week. I know.
I think we should celebrate.
Are you all right?
Maybe we should just get ready.
WOMAN: You ready to go?
This woman at Birkenau, she kept an image of her husband and daughter cut from a photo, underneath her tongue for three months.
She could've been killed at any moment.
That a person would die for a photograph.
You don't want to come, do you?
Everyone will miss you.
They're starting to think you don't like them.
You can't work on this all the time.
You'll drive yourself mad.
Actually, I've finished it.
Why didn't you say anything?
It's great, Jake.
You can move on now.
Start your own book, do whatever you want.
We could take that trip. What trip?
To the island. To Greece.
[deep breath] Yeah. I...
Come on. They'll be waiting for us.
We can share the good news. No, I...
I'm not up for it.
Maybe I could just stay here. No, no.
Say hello to everyone.
It's great, Jake.
A new beginning.
[speaking in Greek]
MAN: [in Greek]
JAKOB: [writing] When we were married, I hoped that if I let Alex in, if I let in a finger of light, it would flood the clearing.
And at first, this is exactly what happened.
Mingus, Mendelssohn, Mozart...
That's an odd selection.
I'm on the "ms".
Something like that.
I really don't know that much about music.
My sister used to play.
Did she? Yeah.
What? the piano.
Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann.
She had good taste.
Yeah. does she still play?
No. No, she's...
She doesn't play anymore.
Do you know about the concerts at the conservatory?
The Workers Education Association.
Ah. Every Sunday afternoon at 2:00.
It's all amateur stuff, really, but a lot of my friends go.
Who do you hang out with?
Uh... I don't really have any friends.
Well, I could probably afford to be...
More discriminating myself.
Oh, look at those.
Those are perfect.
You need a pair of galoshes.
No, I need those. It's the colour.
They'll look brilliant on the wet pavement.
You're so... Why are you laughing?
You're so serious. I'm sorry.
No, don't be sorry.
Okay, I'm not sorry.
I brought you back your books.
I really liked "the stranger".
"Seven days in may", not so much.
I don't know.
I'm not really into political thrillers.
It's a little early, Ben. What time is it?
Uh... I don't know.
[distant door opening]Man: Ben?
Ah, there you are.
Leave Jakob alone.
He probably hasn't even had his breakfast yet.
That's all right.
MAN: Come on.
How about I bring you a new batch of books later?
MAN: You've always spoiled him.
Oh, this is Alex.
Uh, this is Jozef.
ALEX: Nice to meet you.
JAKOB: Uh, he I-lives down the hall.
I've known Jakob since he was a boy.
Really? Jozef: Oh yes.
He was a lovely boy too.
So quiet, so polite.
You're embarrassing me, Jozef.
I'll, uh... I'll leave you and, uh, your friend.
So, you've lived in this place a long time.
I've never lived anywhere for more than two years.
Well, it's comfortable.
Mmm, what's that?
You're not too big on change, I'm guessing.
ALEX: Jakob and I came here on our first date.
That wasn't a date. We'd just met.
MAN: A date or not, I thought you'd have taken him to some horrible underground jazz club.
Or some god-awful lecture by Marshall McLuhan.
MAN: Or to some very worthy, but also very dull meeting on the joys of the labour progressive party.
And now you're making fun of my politics.
Well, we know you come by them honestly.
[imitating bird cries]Oh!
WOMAN: Hey, where's mine?
There you go. Right over here.
ALEX: They liked you.
Hey, hey, hey, I learned some Jewish.
Uh-huh?[speaking in Hebrew]
I have a yellow dog?
[giggling]You don't even have a dog.
Is that what I said?
That lady in the market tricked me.
I think we should get married.
What? and I don't want to wait too long for you to ask.
I'm just saying, I think it looks...
You think so? Yeah. I do.
I think we can make each other happy.
JAKOB: [writing] Alex never understands; thinks that she's doing me good snatching me from the jaws of despair, rescuing me.
But each time a memory or a story slinks away it takes more of me with it.
Everything is wrong.
The bedroom, Alex beside me, my panic.
How will Bella ever find me here?
Beside this strange woman, speaking this language, eating strange food, wearing these clothes...
Hello. congratulations on your book.
Poppy seed. Poppy seed.
Elaine, you're a goddess.
Give me your coat.
Alex, they're here.
How are the children? Ah, who cares?
As long as someone else is taking care of them.
Hi.there she is.
How are you?
Poppy seed. Your favourite.
So, Maurice, how's the museum?
Oh, you know, it's palaeontology.
It's not a very glamorous...
Not that much to say.
ALEX: Well, never mind.
I get more than enough history right here at home.
Maybe I could give you a hand in the kitchen.
JAKOB: And there was this Czech woman, a farmer's wife.
JAKOB: She hid a family of Jews, people she barely even knew.
Seven of them, for the entire war, almost two years, feeding them.
At the end of the war... Jake...
Was the first time her husband found out about it. Just a second.
JAKOB: You'd think he'd be proud of her, yes?
He beat her so badly she almost died.
Jake, maybe you should just give Maurice a break.
No, this is okay. Alex: No, it's not.
It's... you're not married to him.
You're not obligated to listen to this stuff 24 hours a day.
Alex, really, it's... No, Maurice, it makes your brain explode. His obsession with these details... Alex.
What's going on?
[reading] "The moment I'd spent half my day crawling through misery to reach vanishes under a bulb. The shadows slip away as Alex again barges in with her shameless vitality."
Do you have any idea what this has been like for me?
I can't take this anymore.
This is what you want, isn't it?
Then you can...
Sit in the dark forever.
Every trace of me will be gone, my clothes which you think are too flashy, and my job which you think is trivial and my friends whose names you can't even remember.
You're ungrateful, Jake.
JAKOB: [writing] I tried to Bury images, to cover them over with distractions, with attempts at love.
By day, I entered the world, but at night, my mother, my father, Bella simply Rose, shook the earth from their clothes, and waited.
To live with ghosts requires solitude.
WOMAN: [singing in foreign language]
JAKOB: [writing] I know only fragments of what Athos contained.
Salt, olives, vine leaves, sea foam, a life spanning two wars and one love.
Were there words that they regretted?
Did they imagine children?
When a man dies...
His secrets bond like crystals.
There is no one here.
You can come out.
You need some fresh air, Jakob.
One day you have to come out.
At least we have this.
Your gums are bleeding.
I'll soak some bread in water for you.
Your Greek is still better than your English.
He died at age of 18 in a traffic accident.
Sometimes people die when it's not expected, not just during wartime.
No one will see you.
We are too high up.
My grandparents used to have a house on the island of hydra, overlooking the sea.
Once when Nicos was a boy, he folded a paper airplane and sent it over the edge.
It landed in the hat of a man drinking ouzo in a cafe near by the dock.
On the wings of the airplane, my brother had written a note begging to be saved from a kidnapper.
And he described where he was being held captive.
Then, the police came to our house, and Nicos laughed and laughed...
[chuckling] While my father chased him, yelling halfway down the hill.
[distant roar of vehicles]
[speaking in foreign language]
It's all right. It's all right.
BOTH: [speaking in Greek]
[singing in Greek]
[knocking on door]
ATHOS: I have to go into town.
Hey. Don't worry.
I'll be all right.
Man 1: [speaking in German]
Man 2: [interpreting in Greek]
Man 1: [in German]
Can you read this?
You are back.
[distant singing/ shouting]
It's safe now.
This is a letter I received a few months ago.
It's invitation to teach in Canada.
See the stamp?
As soon as I get a visa.
That the dead may drink.
That the dead may not go hungry.
For your parents.
For all who have no one to recall their names.
Jakob, it may not mean anything to you now, but you must try to be buried in ground that will remember you.
[singing in Greek]
JAKOB: [writing] I long for the loss of memory.
Though I have tried to will my parents and Bella from my sleep, this will amounts to nothing, for my mind betrays me in a second.
I've crossed an ocean and lived many years without them, yet I can feel Bella's gentle fingers on my back, my father's hand on my head, and suddenly I'm afraid, and turn around in empty rooms.
JAKOB: How are your parents?
BEN: They're fine.
How are you? I'm all right, I guess.
I start university next year. I know, that's good.
I'm dating someone. Oh, really?
Is she here? No.
What's her name?
An excellent name.
Do you know what it means? No, I don't.
In Hebrew, it means "full of grace".
I didn't expect you to be here.
Do you still think it's true, that I...
Wanted to change you?
I mean, it's in the book, so I suppose you do.
Alex, if it hadn't been for you, I never would've written the book.
I would never have... Gone to Greece.
[chuckle] I don't know if that's true.
So what now?
I'm going to teach here for a few months every year, when I'm not on the island.
Are you seeing anybody? Uh, no.
You? sort of.
He's a musician. [chuckling]
Aren't you lonely?
Yeah. Same old Jake.
You've written a very good book.
You should be proud.
From Mr. Taylor, my new colleague.
It's invitation to party.
[chuckling] Look how popular we are already.
[speaking in Yiddish]
It's like living in hotel.
ATHOS: I was looking forward to snow, but there is hardly any at all.
MAN: You're like a lot OF MEDITERRANEANS:
You've got a fascination with the cold.
Well, a few winters here will change that, I'm sure.
I hope you're having a good time.
I'm sorry there aren't more children here.
Thank you, it's very nice.
Oh, wait. I have something for you.
I know you're not...
[chuckle] I mean...
Well, everyone should be able to take part in a celebration.
Thank you. You're much too kind.
Oh! I almost forgot.
Why don't you pose with Athos?
Too much champagne. [chuckle]
I'll feel better in the morning.
I taught you well.
You didn't open your present.
What do you think it is?
A frog? [chuckle]
[whistle of admiration]
Put it on.
Ah. Looks good on you.
What is it?
Stay where you are.
[knocking on door]
I'm... um, I'm sorry to bother you.
Everything all right? Ah...
[thunder crash]This crazy storm.
ATHOS: Do you want to come in?
WOMAN: Oh, no, no, no, no. Thank you. Um...
I was wondering I-If you had any extra candles?
Of course. Take this one.
I'll bring you some more. Thank you.
I'm, uh, sorry to bother you.
It's my husband. He...
ATHOS: What is it?
WOMAN: He doesn't take too well to, uh...
I shouldn't leave him alone too long.
JOZEF: So, this book you're writing.
ATHOS: "Bearing false witness".
But it's not really a book yet.
Just a lot of notes, ideas.
Who knows if I ever finish it.
And, uh, it's about what happened during the war?
Well, uh, it's about the abuse of history.
It starts, uh, with Biskupin in Poland, where I met Jakob.
10 years ago, a river dried up there and people started finding artefacts.
But then the Nazis came and they buried everything.
As far as they were concerned, there couldn't possibly be an advanced culture that they didn't create.
So they destroyed the evidence.
It's a good thing you're doing.
Already, people say the things I lived through never happened.
You'd think they'd at least wait a few years, until we're all dead.
The mitzvah that you did for that boy, it's a blessed thing.
WOMAN: Did you know...
That jozef was a conductor in Warsaw...
Huh. before the war?
A very good conductor.
Oh, not that good.
And he's a very good piano teacher too.
Parents pay me and children resent me.
Is that good teaching?
Don't listen to him.
Thank you. My Sara, she was a singer.
Not bad either.
Now I sell dry goods in the market.
I'm the singing dry goods lady.
Some more sugar.
["Moonlight sonata" ♪♪♪]
You eat so slowly, like an aristocrat.
I think about her too.
You think she's dead.
I don't know, Jakob.
Maybe it's better not to hope.
Listen... When I feel things building up inside me, I write.
You have also something to express.
You will write too.
What you must.
THERE IS AN OLD SAYING:
"The great mystery of wood is not that it burns, but that it floats."
There is a good and bad side to everything.
You can choose to see what destroys something or what saves it.
JAKOB: [reading] "There is earth that never leaves your hands, rain that never leaves your bones.
At night, memory roams your skin.
While you sleep, the sea floods your house.
You wake in the bog, burning with the smell of earth."
"Nothing releases you, not death in the dream, not waking.
This is how one becomes undone, by a smell, a word, a place, a photo of a mountain of shoes.
By love that closes its mouth before calling a name."
Jakob, it's beautiful.
Oh-h, damn you.
Look at us, huh?
[sniffling] Uh? Ah-hah.
The two bachelors crying into our coffees.
Then I'm going to do some work of my own.
Ben, it's getting late.
Your parents will think we kidnapped you.
I know you're not asleep.
Come on, Ben.
Come on. Time for bed.
Ah, there you are.
Did he fall asleep?
Come on, now, time for bed.
[whispering] Don't make me go.
Come on, Ben. Ben, Ben.
Come on. [straining]
Okay... go on.
[door opening]Good night.
You always know, Jakob.
If he ever gives you any trouble, you just send him back, huh?
He can overstay his welcome. It's no trouble.
Good night. Good night.
You should rest. It's not good for you to work night after night like this.
There is an old Greek saying...
"Light your candle before night overtakes you."
You have a saying for everything.
That was a beautiful ceremony.
So many people.
You know, when you first came here, you were what, 11?
Mmm-hmm. just a little bit older than Ben.
Hey. What's this?
Is an apple food?
[sigh]Why do you throw it away?
I don't want the other half.
[scoffing] Can you imagine?
JOZEF: Take it.
I said take it!
During the war, everything had value, no matter how small.
A button, a pencil, a spoon!
Not to mention the things that could make you weep.
A good pair of shoes.
Hot water. A scrap of food.
Isn't that right, Jakob?
Now my own son throws away an apple.
Well, if my only son doesn't even understand the value of things, why did we even survive?
Why don't you play something?
["Moonlight sonata" ♪♪♪]
ATHOS: [writing] I know I have written to you before.
This letter is in regards to a missing person.
FIRST NAME: Bella; LAST NAME: Beer.
LAST SEEN: Biskupin, Poland, 1942.
I'm seeking any information regarding her possible whereabouts...
[overlapping] Please post the following every Friday for one year.
I know the records are incomplete...
I know I have written to you before.
Check your list, taking into account possible variations of spelling.
FIRST NAME: Bella; LAST NAME: Beer. Age: 15.
BEN: [on the phone] Jakob?
It's Ben, how are you?
JAKOB: Oh, hi, Ben. Uh, I'm fine.
I'm just sleeping. We were thinking of you.
How are things in hydra?
Good. How's Naomi?
She's fine. And your dad?
How's he, since...
Well, I'll be seeing him soon.
I'll be back for class in a couple of weeks.
That soon? Yeah.
Okay, hang on.
Jakob! hi, Naomi.
Good to hear your voice.
Well, say you'll come to dinner.
Oh yes, of course. Soon as I get back.
How was your trip?
Oh, you remembered my olive oil.
How could I forget?[chuckling]
Listen, there's this woman from the museum Naomi knows.
She's a curator. Very smart.
All right, then.
"All right", what?
Invite her over sometime.
Well, actually, she already did.
BEN: Naomi's had us on her thesis diet for months now.
When I was doing the Russians, all we ever ate was cabbage soup and perogies.
BEN: Then it was the Latin Americans.
Empanadas, rice, beans.
And now it's Sweden.
And every other day, we're eating salted fish.
NAOMI: That's not true!
And what's wrong with salted fish anyway?
You know, when I was small, I was obsessed with salt.
I think it started because we travelled so much and everywhere, I kept hearing about salt.
SALZBURG: City of salt.
VIA SALARIATI OF ROME: Road of salt.
And in the Sahara, there were entire cities built of salt.
I used to imagine caravans weighed down with thick cakes of salt.
I'm talking too much.
How's your project? Um, good.
I... collect songs and lullabies from everywhere in the world.
Become a kind of a mania with me.
A song for every occasion. Or person.
By now I can match a song or a ballad to anyone.
What about ja... What about...
What about Jakob?
What about Michaela? Jakob. No!
NAOMI: No, I don't...
MICHAELA: Try, try.Um...
Well, for you, I... I would have to say, "Moorsoldaten".
"The peat bog soldiers".
You're very good.
Do you know the song?
It's... Well, it's...
Uh, it was written by prisoners during the war.
And they weren't allowed to sing anything but marching songs while they were working, so they wrote something that sounded like a marching song, but...
Well, really, it's a song about hope.
So, you still live in Greece.
Back and forth.
I write there, teach here.
How long have you known Naomi?
Well, to tell you the truth, not that long.
I've only been at the museum a few months.
How long have you known each other?
Well, I've known Ben all his life, really.
I was there when he was born.
His parents lived in the apartment next to ours.
Ben was very premature.
And when his mother went into labour, his father came running into our apartment in a panic.
And Athos, my godfather, was away at a conference, so I called the ambulance and...
Anyway, I ended up being at the hospital when she gave birth.
When they brought him from the delivery room, he weighed less than three pounds.
So small in this almost transparent body.
He was like a spirit.
Not even a person.
No bigger than my hand.
Take off your coat.
I'll make some tea.
Oh, this is...
From my mother's side of the family.
She's Russian, he's Spanish.
Fabulous arguments, as you can imagine.
And they used to go on for hours.
Why? You... You want milk?
JAKOB: ...Even the horror of the past, you try to reinvent it and re-imagine it.
Like my Russian grandmother.
[chuckle] Yeah, sort of.
Not always so amusingly.
Take specific moments and...
Your mind fills in the gaps.
I've spent years trying to imagine Bella's route from the house.
Where did she die?
In the street? In the train?
In the barracks?
You try to reconstruct, visualize every possible scenario.
I used to dream that maybe she escaped.
I haven't dreamt that in a long time.
I also used to wonder what might have happened if I'd stayed.
Waited in the house instead of running away.
Maybe she came back.
There's a poem by Akhmatova.
"You are many years late.
How happy I am to see you."
We shouldn't tell the rabbi or they won't let him into the cemetery.
At least he waited till my mother died.
I still can't believe he would do that after everything he went through.
Your father suffered a lot, Ben.
BEN: He didn't suffer.
He was impenetrable.
Can I ask you something?
I don't understand how you could have gone through what you did and still be so generous, still write the things you do.
I used to think that if I understood you, I could understand my father better.
But it's like you're from different worlds.
Well, I don't think so.
Your father told me not long ago...
That he still would dream about his mother and father.
The smallest things.
The detail of his mother's coat, a button, his father's shoes outside in the rain.
And that when he woke up in the morning, old as he was...
He was still crying.
JAKOB: [writing] After years of trying to be closer to them, I now fear that I am only haunting my parents and Bella with my calling, startling them awake in their black beds.
All the years I've felt Bella entreating me, filled with her loneliness, I have misunderstood her signals.
Like other ghosts, she whispers, not for me to join her, but so that when I'm close enough, she can push me back into the world.
Mm, oh, coconut oil.
MICHAELA: [reading] "I did not witness the most important events of my life.
My deepest story must be told by a blind man from behind a wall, from underground, from the corner of a small house on a small island that juts like a bone from the skin of sea.
While I hid in the radiant light of Athos' island, thousands suffocated in darkness.
While I hid in the luxury of a room, thousands were stuffed into crawlspaces, stables, pigsties.
While I was learning Greek and English, learning geology and poetry, Jews were filling the corners and cracks of Europe.
I didn't know that while I listened to stories of explorers, a Jew could be purchased for a quart of Brandy, for sugar, cigarettes.
What do our bodies make us believe?
That we're never ourselves until we contain two souls.
Now I'm not afraid when harvesting darkness.
Night after night it is happiness that wakes me.
There is room at last for everyone I have ever loved.
As Michaela approaches, I shake like a compass needle, feeling for the first time a future, my words, my life, no longer separate after decades of hiding in my skin.
Here is a woman who will slowly undress my spirit, bring my body to belief."
JAKOB: We're going to be late.
JAKOB: [writing] "Each morning I write these words for you all, for Bella and Athos and eleni; For Alex; for jozef and Sara; For Ben and Naomi; For Michaela.
I can describe what her wrists look like or how her hair grows at the back of her neck.
But more, I know what she remembers.
I know her memories.
I pray that soon my wife will feel new breath inside her own.
I pray and press my head against her side, and whisper a story.
Child I long for, child I dream...
If we conceive you, think of us sometimes, your mother and me, when it rains.
And one day, when you've almost forgotten, I pray you'll let us return.
That through an open window, even in the middle of a city, the sea air of our marriage will find you.
I pray that one day, in a room lit only by night snow, you will suddenly know how miraculous is your parents' love for each other.
My son, my daughter...
If we conceive you, know that once I was lost in a forest.
I was so afraid, my blood pounded in my chest, and I knew my heartstrings would soon be exhausted.
I saved myself without thinking.
I grasped the two syllables closest to me and replaced my heartbeat with your name.
Now I see that I must give what I most need."