The “Passenger” That You Didn’t See (October 1975)
I have always thought that scripts are dead pages. I have also written it. They are pages that presuppose a film, and without the film they have no reason to exist. They don’t even have literary value. The following sequence was not included in The Passenger for reasons of length. Therefore, there should be no reason to publish it. But I filmed it, and therefore it is a sequence that exists somewhere, inside a box at the bottom of some warehouse, and it exists in my memory and in the memory of whoever saw it screened – for example, of whoever edited it with me.
I confess that I liked this sequence, not just because it was splendidly acted by Jack Nicholson and the German actor, but also because, in supporting the theme of the film, it also gave quite an unreal dimension to the reporter’s character. Carried out on the ambiguous thread of memory – you know that memory offers no guarantees – this sequence opened for Locke, the journalist, with daydream moments he enjoyed exploring.
The name of an unknown woman, Helga, brings unexpectedly to his mind the memory of a red bicycle. Helga and the bicycle never encountered one another, but the fascination of the game issues exactly from that. For a man like Locke, who has already given up his own identity to assume another’s, it cannot but be exciting to run after a third one. He doesn’t even need to wonder how it will end.
I filmed the scene with sinuous and barely perceptible camera movements. To think of it now, it seems clear to me that I was unconsciously trying to carry out a movement similar to that of our imagination, when it attempts to give life to images that don’t belong to us, but that, little by little, we make our own. We color them, we give them sounds – glimmers of color and sound – but lively, just like our memories. Or like dreams, which are inadequate and laconic as far as content is concerned, but very rich in sensations and thoughts.
Munich, in Bavaria. A square dominated by the apse of a church, and by the imposing side of another. A square that would resemble an interior if it weren’t for an airy sound of bells that fades away as Locke moves away from the churches. One begins to notice a chorus of young voices coming from another building, hardly disturbed by the sound of a street sweeper’s broom dragging on the pavement. Locke stops to listen for a moment, and then goes on walking again. With his hands in the pockets of his pants, and his shirt unbuttoned, he lets his heels lightly tap over the stone pavement without a precise rhythm. Perhaps he is even looking for a new way to walk.
He starts down a street. He stops in front of a storefront that was once a window. Just a few objects; old and exotic stuff, sophisticated. They stand out against the darkness of the store as though they are actually illuminated by an inner light. Inside there is a tall, fat man, about forty five years old, with a big, childish, red face. The man stops in the middle of a gesture when he realizes that Locke is on the other side of the window. He seems to recognize him. He says, as if to himself, “Charlie.” And then louder, to Locke: “Charlie!” Naturally, there is no reaction on
Locke’s part. The man calls again, and this time Locke bends down and looks to see where the voice is coming from, inside the store. And he sees the man set off towards the door next to the shop window, then go out into the street and come meet him with the happy expression of some one who is having a pleasant, albeit unexpected, encounter. Extending his hand, the man repeats, “Charlie!” Locke turns, thinking that the other man is speaking to someone behind him, but he doesn’t see anyone. So, a bit hesitantly, he in turn holds out his hand, which the German shakes vigorously. “What a pleasure – what a pleasure! What are you doing here? It has been centuries since we have seen each other.” He has a hardy voice, appropriate to his physique. Locke observes him, forcing himself to recognize him, but it is evident that the slightly coarse features of that face are totally unknown to him. And he limits himself to saying, “I am just passing through.” “But what a pleasure,” repeats the German, “you can’t believe – after such a long time.”
He gives Locke a slap on his left shoulder and continues to stare at him, visibly submersed in a wave of memories. “We should celebrate this meeting. Let’s go drink something.” “Let’s go,” Locke responds with good-natured resignation. “Just like old times,” the other concludes. They set off. Their footsteps are brisk, youthful. Locke responds to the German’s second slap by taking him under his arm. They cross a crowded street. On the sides are yellow and pink houses. The air is clean, calm.Locke is more agile, and reaches the opposite sidewalk at a run. The German, on the other hand, hesitates; he is afraid of the traffic. Locke waits for him and together they enter a pub.
It’s a typically Bavarian place, heavily decorated with empty barrels, trophies, copper objects. Faces weighed down by beer. The glasses are filled up in some sort of cellar and then handed over to girls, who bring them upstairs. One of these girls comes over to greet them. The German turns to Locke and says in a vaguely complicitous tone, “Campari and soda?” Locke agrees, “Campari and soda.”The girl leaves and the two sit down. The German continues to stare at Locke with a slightly obtuse and open grin. He seems truly happy to be there with an old friend. “So, how has everything gone for you?” he asks. Locke shrugs his shoulders. The German continues: “With all of those projects that you had going – to keep up with you was mind-boggling, you know?” He laughs.
He talks and laughs loudly. Locke, on the other hand, maintains a quiet countenance, almost creating a barrier between himself and the unknown friend. He no longer feels uneasy. Rather, his recent embarrassment begins to melt away. Nevertheless, he feels that this is an experience that he should have by himself, not in the company of that man – who, in the meantime, has begun to imitate his old friend Charlie by emphatically citing the witty remarks that have evidently remained in his mind. ”’We will build a new world’ – The human spirit is ready to be freed’ – I will always remember it.” Locke avoids looking at him.
A few yards away from them, on the staircase that leads to the upper floor, the legs of those who are walking upstairs can be seen. The sound of the footsteps on the wooden stairs has a strangely military rhythm. Locke looks away and glances outside, beyond the windows, at the bustle on the street. It is a carefree street. It is morning. The German breaks the silence: “No children?” “No. I adopted one but it didn’t work out.” “You were always saying that you would never have children.” Locke turns to look at him. “I don’t remember having ever said anything like that,” he observes quietly. “I do,” insists the German. Meanwhile, he pulls a photograph out of his wallet. “Mine have grown up, you know?” He lays the photograph on the table in front of Locke. “This is Maria – and this is Heinrich. Heinrich is a big fan of pop music.” Locke gives a cursory glance to the picture. The girl arrives with the Campari and sodas. Each takes a sip of his.
Putting down the glass, the German literally changes his expression. He becomes sly, allusive. He lets a couple of seconds go by before saying, “Do you remember Helga?” Locke smiles. Now he is beginning to have fun. “Helga? What a name.” “She’s married. Remember the policeman? Surely he would have arrested me if it hadn’t been for you – and everything would have been out in the open, my trafficking, my little adventures. All of it. Now she is married. She is a housewife.”
Locke lights a cigarette, to react to a light sadness that seizes him. After a minute he begins to speak, always in a low voice: “Yes. It’s strange how you remember certain things and forget others. If, all of the sudden, we remembered everything that we have forgotten and forgot everything that we remember, we would be completely different people.”
The German, without having understood well, has an approving air. He changes the subject. “Do you remember the song that we used to sing?” “No, I don’t think so.”The fact that Locke doesn’t remember, while he himself does, seems to give the German a certain satisfaction, so much that he starts to sing, moving his hand to the song. “Living doll – a walking talking living doll – Remember?” “I remember a bicycle that I had,” Locke replies. “Red.” The German’s face darkens. “A bicycle? No, I mean – when we were together.” Locke becomes more and more ironic. “When we were together? What was it like?”
Now the German seems dismayed. He looks Locke right in the eyes, for a long time, with a consternation that makes it clear that the atrocious suspicion of a misunderstanding has flashed into his mind, although it was then thrown out. Locke, on the other hand, is impassive, and the German can find nothing better to do than explode into a roaring laugh, which slowly dies down in unison with the swaying of his head. Locke also laughs. “Helga,” he murmurs, “how fun she must have been!” ”Ah yes,” echoes the German.
Again silence. The German finishes drinking and then drums the table with his fingertips. Now it is he who is embarrassed. After a while he gets up, saying: “I have to go. Work, you know.” He looks for money in his pocket to pay for the drink, but Locke stops him. “No, no – I’ve got it.” The German sighs, almost as if he wanted to show his regret at having to leave. “So – come back and visit me,” he says. Locke nods yes. The German leaves. He crosses the room which, in the meantime, has almost emptied out. He reaches the door. He turns. Locke replies to his goodbye, waving his hand. “Goodbye,” he says softly. But the German can’t hear, he is already on the street, intent upon finding the right moment to cross the street.
Locke lowers his head and looks at what is left of the Campari and soda in the glasses.
“Il ‘Reporter’ che non avete visto,” from Corriere della Sera, 26 October 1975.