First, there is the long—still—opening—shot—of freeway traffic outside my office window, flowing in one direction, heavy, and menacing, and gray, like flood debris carried on a strong current through the central business district. Over this, a white expanse of sterile sky dreaming in the color blue.
The scene speaks to us all of the human condition, of Communist Poland, of my small department and the taste of half-day-old coffee. A smoker and her impatient children wait in line for electricity. Their clothes are unclean. Their noses run yellow and clear.
Katiana, my wife, gazes out over a field of tall crops on the outskirts of the city, wondering how different life would be if she could take that first step away from the bus stop and onto the soil. How wonderful, to revel in the leaves and the wet earth of passion again.
She is carefully placed off-center in the scene, her back to the camera, her shoulders starting to round at 40 years old inside a thick red sweater, waiting for the city bus that will take her home. The pavement and gravel beneath her feet at the edge of the road speak volumes.
Because the shot continues for many minutes, what feels like an afternoon, you will notice, eventually, the flowers in the field are sunflowers, grown for their oil. They are vivid yellow and darkcentered and taller than a man, bowed over with the weight of their own seed heads, their faces pulled down by the gravity of winter’s approach. As the scene ends, the wind is able to stir one of the big flowers into motion, once.
This, you realize, is the message of the film. At its heart. In its head. This is how love stirs the imagination. The question now—did the woman in the red sweater notice the flower moving—and what if she did? Would it change the arc of an ordinary life?
. . .
Fine. Do you have the report?
When will you have it for me?
I won’t have it for you.
I’m not working on it.
I don’t believe it will be accurate. Or meaningful. And so.
Will you work on it tomorrow?
Yes. Probably. I won’t.
Why can’t people leave me alone at my desk? I ask myself. These reports have given me a rash.
I’m leaving early today for an appointment. I tell them.
. . .
So this is a common problem, you’re saying.
It’s common in that it happens to many people.
And so—. It’s common.
It’s curable. It’s temporary.
I wonder how many of these conversations I can have in one day. The doctor licks his lips, which is odd, until you think about it. He is careful how he tells me goodbye.
. . .
In this region where we live, we have been at war for a century with the people who once settled here before us, before we were divided into two countries. A musician from the other country, who is our enemy, walks up to me at my bus stop at the end of the day, to ask if I know a place where he can stay the night.
I ask him what instrument he plays. The viola, he tells me. When I board the bus, he remains behind on the sidewalk, holding his case and his instrument, and I imagine where he will stay the night. I imagine there is a rifle in his viola case, or a bomb.
. . .
No one has smiled yet in the movie.
A dark blue building appears at each intersection as I pass and then it disappears. The city bus moves me along without judgment. People stand in pairs on the sidewalk, taking shelter from an evening rain, as if honesty, or friendship, or kinship of any kind, would sprout between them. The answer is never filmed and so there is no answer. What doesn’t happen—doesn’t not happen, either.
Sometime after 2 a.m. the musician will figure prominently in the story.
. . .
One of the many things we dislike about foreign art films is the lack of a musical soundtrack. As in real life. Another is—the lack of peaks and valleys. Or climax.
I’m surprised on arriving home to discover my house now consists largely of a yellow, rain-streaked exterior, which is new, I believe. Surprised, being too strong a word for the genre, I am bemused, without benefit of soundtrack.
Katiana came home early from work, she explains, and painted the house a sunflowery yellow, based on a field she had watched while waiting for her bus. Our bedroom is now an iris green, based on the color of her eyes.
I didn’t think I would like an exterior in yellow, I tell her, but I do.
My eyes are tired today, she tells me, and the rest of me has never felt at home here.
I change my clothes while she stands and watches my body with kindness, if not appetite.
What we desire, we have taught ourselves to desire.
A man on the bus had me thinking about you, she says. He was a violin player.
Do you mean viola?
He wasn’t a bad fellow, I saw him, too.
I gave him the address to the house. I told him it would be yellow.