A few years ago I read an article in the New Yorker about elevator rescue teams whose job it is to save the hapless souls who get stuck in the innumerable (and aging) elevator shafts of Moscow, and was inspired to write a little story about it. The story in my head was so cinematic, that it felt right to write it as a screenplay.
So far I’ve only shared it with my sister, who has a fondness for things Russian, but perhaps other people might also have some fun reading it. I’ve never been to Russia, though, so all this is completely imaginary….
Moscow Elevator Rescue
inspired by the article
by Sally McGrane
in The New Yorker online
Elevator mechanic. 40-something, stout, divorced.
Young apprentice mechanic working with Ivan.
Dispatcher at the elevator company control room.
Ivan’s 7-year-old daughter, living with her mother.
Old friend of Ivan, no apparent occupation. A graying man-about-town.
And other men, women, and children that Ivan encounters in the course of his work.
EXT. BUSY STREET IN DOWNTOWN MOSCOW – NIGHT
FESTIVE LIGHTING reflected in the window of an expensive car that is stopped at a traffic light. PAN AWAY to see the rest of the street as the car starts moving again. Big city bustle; the sidewalk is crowded. Many are dressed to party: cocktail dresses, shiny suits, sharp shoes. Cars are honking and drunk people are yelling in the distance. ZOOM IN towards a tall building across the street, and PAN UPWARDS to emphasize its height.
INT. APARTMENT BUILDING CORRIDOR
CLOSE UP of a WOMAN’s hand, with bright baubles on her wrist, clutching a bottle of champagne. ZOOM OUT to see her walking hand-in-hand with a MAN down the corridor. Both are dressed for a fancy cocktail party. They are happy but not talking. The man whispers something into the woman’s ear and she laughs. The couple enter the elevator.
The couple are holding hands. The woman is looking away from the man, coyly. There is a lurch, and the elevator stops moving. The man takes out his smartphone and starts tapping on it.
It’s not working, there’s no reception in this damned elevator.
(Points at the emergency phone)
There’s always the old-fashioned way.
Yes, well, I’m just used to doing everything with my own phone, that’s all.
(Picks up the phone)
(A beeping tone. To the woman:)
Is there even anyone on the other side on New Year’s Eve?
IRINA K, the elevator company’s dispatcher picks up, we (and anyone in the elevator) can hear her voice because the phone is loud enough.
IRINA K (O.S.)
RussLift control center. Your name and location please.
Uh… Name: Ivan Ivanovich.
(The woman giggles.)
Location: 4 XXX Road. I think we are between the 4th and 5th floor. Don’t you have computers that can tell you where we are?
IRINA K (O.S.)
You will have to wait a while, Ivan Ivanovich. Tonight is a busy night and the next available mechanic will be…
(to unseen colleague, shouting:)
What is tonight’s wait time?
(to the man:)
… about forty-five minutes to one hour.
Oh come on, you are going to make us wait here just because you don’t have a sense of humor? We’ve got a party to go to… people are waiting for us. Nothing we can do to get going a little quicker?
IRINA K (O.S.)
You’re not the only ones tonight. Sorry but you’ll have to wait for your turn.
The man sighs, and slumps down to sit on the floor. He loosens his tie. The woman hangs up the phone for him and joins him there.
It’s okay “Ivan”, we have to wait but it doesn’t mean that we have to miss the party… (sets the champagne bottle in front of him.) Come on. Five more minutes and it’s time.
She kisses him on the cheek, and he kisses back on her lips, and they embrace vigorously. PAN UPWARDS to the overhead fluorescent lamp and ZOOM IN, FADE TO WHITE.
TITLES fade in on the white background. THEME MUSIC plays.
INT. ELEVATOR SHAFT
The bright whiteness suddenly drops. We have just been looking directly into a torchlight. We are now looking out from inside the elevator shaft, between the doors which are half pried-open. Standing there is IVAN DIAGHILEV, elevator mechanic, in his greasy uniform with his name stitched over the right breast pocket. He is 40-something, with stubble, getting stout around the middle but still strong, especially in the arms. He is sweating. He parts the doors some more and looks down, shining his torch.
Can anybody hear me? RussLift maintenance. I’m coming down.
He climbs into the shaft, directly onto the top of the elevator car. It is stopped exactly between two floors. He opens the top hatch and it’s dark inside. He shines his torch to find the couple on the floor. The man has his arm around the woman, and they are cuddling. They seem startled by the light, but do not rouse from their position.
We were hoping you would be a few minutes slower.
(Kisses the woman.)
(Shines his torch to the other corner of the elevator, sees the empty champagne bottle. Shines it back at the couple.)
Get dressed. There’s four more jobs waiting for me tonight.
INT. RUSSLIFT VAN DRIVING THROUGH MOSCOW – NIGHT
Ivan is driving and looking straight ahead at the road while his apprentice SERGEI, a clean-shaven young man in his 20s, talks excitedly, hands waving.
Did you see what she was wearing? That dress, those pearls! That body! Eh? And did you smell her perfume? What’s she doing with a skinny office boy like that guy? If I were in his place…
(Not impressed, feeling too old for this)
Look out the window, Sergei. They’re all dressed up like that tonight. Nothing special. Get married, and find out that all this (waves out the window) is a trap, a game. At twenty, they all look like that. When they’ve hooked you, they don’t need to any more.
(Trying to change the subject)
So, why did you tell them that we had more jobs tonight? Our shift is over.
I’ve found that’s the best way to hurry them up. Make them feel a bit guilty. I already got you out of the elevator. Not my job to comfort you and make you happy too.
Wow Ivan, you must be really looking forward to the customer service training next month.
I work with machines, not people. It’s just a job. I just want to do it and get home to enjoy the fruits of my honest toil.
Ivan grimaces and keeps driving. Sergei gets the hint and stops talking. They drive on in silence as snow starts to fall.
EXT. RUSSLIFT VAN DRIVING THROUGH MOSCOW – NIGHT
Van drives into the darkness. The street is much emptier than before, with some drunk stragglers making their way home.
INT. VASSILY’S HOME – NIGHT
Well-furnished apartment, not extravagantly big but comfortable. Ivan and his old friend VASSILY are sitting at a small table, smoking and playing cards. Vassily is similar in age to Ivan, but of better means. His hair is graying but still thick, and he lets it go knowing that it makes him look more distinguished. His nose and cheeks are large and fleshy, and come alive with movement when he talks. A bottle of something and small glasses are at their elbows. The air is hazy and the ashtray is half-full of cigarette butts.
Queen of spades. Ha! Appropriate!
(Picking up the card to inspect it closely, compares it with a photograph that Vassily shows him on his cell phone.)
It even looks like her face… And she won’t tell you her real name, you don’t know where she works, you’ve never met any of her friends, and you say you met her at a casino?
Life is but a game!
(Pulls out a joker from his hand)
And in this game, I think you’re being played the fool. She obviously thinks you’re some rich foolish man that she can milk for money. She might be a blackmailer.
At least life won’t be boring! Anyhow, what could anyone blackmail me about? My life is white as snow.
Cocaine’s as white as snow. Mold is as white as snow.
She should know by now that I’m not rich.
I’ve known you twenty years and I couldn’t tell.
(Smiles away the backhanded compliment.)
How’s things going with your girl? Are you seeing her this weekend?
If Lena lets me.
What does Lena care who you’re seeing? She’s not still married to you!
But she has custody of Anna.
Ah stupid me. I should be clearer. How’s things going with the woman that you are seeing? Are you meeting her this weekend? But since you brought it up, how’s things with your daughter?
You still think Lena’s brainwashing her to hate you?
She almost brainwashed me to hate myself before I managed to split up with her.
(Appreciating that Ivan is not keen to talk about this now. Lays down his next card.)
King of Clubs.
(Ponders the symbolism)
How’s your father?
What is this? A tarot reading? He’s the same. Everything’s the same. The last I saw him was a month ago, when he called me to help him fix the wiring in his apartment. Typical. Too cheap to hire a real electrician. Wouldn’t talk to me otherwise.
(Pulls out a card from his hand, a Three of Diamonds.)
Now what do you think this symbolizes? Anna, Lena, and me? Me, my apprentice, and the Dispatch Woman? The Holy Trinity?
As I said, life is a game. You just have to learn to read your cards properly. Have another drink.
No Vassily, life is not a card game. It’s like being stuck in an elevator. You’re trapped inside for an unknown duration of time. Most people are stuck alone, by themselves, waiting for something to happen. You don’t know if you will go up or down. You don’t know when the repairman is going to come and rescue you.
So the elevator repairman is God? How modest of you.
Why not? I save people’s lives. I bring them from their loneliness and dejection into the brightness and sunshine that they so badly missed.
(Having fun developing this metaphor)
And while you’re inside the elevator, He speaks only through a disembodied voice, over the intercom!
You never actually see Him until you leave the elevator.
You call for help, He says wait, but it’s For Your Own Good.
(Leaning back, looking upwards, arms spread wide. Vassily takes the opportunity to peek at his cards.)
God Himself was once trapped in an elevator. And when He revealed his true identity, they stoned him, saying “If you are really God, then fix your own elevator and rescue yourself!”
They didn’t stone Him, they crucified Him.
An elevator’s too small and cramped for a crucifixion.
Ever the practical mind, Ivan. I never knew that you were a religious soul. You’ve always hated priests.
If you’re trapped in an elevator, you wouldn’t like someone else hogging the intercom and giving you orders. Chances are, he doesn’t know the faintest thing about elevators.
INT. RUSSLIFT VAN DRIVING THROUGH MOSCOW – DAY
(To the radio)
Confirm dispatch address, Three-Two XXX Avenue, elevator Bravo, fifteenth floor, over.
IRINA K (O.S.)
Address confirmed. Customer gives name as Koroviv. An old man in a wheelchair, so try to be fast. Can you handle this alone without Sergei? Over.
Of course. Tell him to enjoy his customer service training. Over.
IRINA K (O.S.)
Your turn will come soon. Don’t worry about missing out.
I’m not. I think we have much better conversations when he’s not around to eavesdrop. Over.
IRINA K (O.S.)
You can tell me all your secrets now, over.
I would, but I don’t want to make the other boys jealous. Arriving at location. Until later. Over and out.
EXT. OLD MAN’S APARTMENT BUILDING – DAY
Drab, Soviet-era apartment block, in an estate of virtually identical buildings. Ivan parks the van, slides open the side door to retrieve his toolkit. Walks with toolkit into the building.
INT. MECHANICAL ROOM OF APARTMENT BUILDING – DAY
Loud and greasy. Ivan is repairing something. Repeatedly flicks a switch on a control panel. Hits it, lights on panel finally come on.
INT. OLD MAN’S APARTMENT BUILDING – FIFTEENTH FLOOR LANDING
We are facing the elevator doors. Ivan walks up to it, inserts special key into the door. First tries to open the doors with his hands, and then uses a tool to pry them open, with much effort. As the doors open he steps back and by reflex covers his nose with his sleeve, then he sees the OLD MAN sitting on his wheelchair in the darkness, and quickly lowers his arm.
(Deeply embarrassed, weak.)
Thank you. I’m afraid that I’ve… I’m sorry that you have to meet me like this.
No, no don’t be sorry. It’s not easy to… it’s… how long have you been waiting?
I don’t know. What time is it? I left my apartment at three. I wanted to go downstairs to be in the sun for a while. But now look what happened.
(Glances at watch)
It’s almost half-past four now. I’m sorry to take so long. I just need to…
Ivan walks into the elevator and uses another key on the control panel. The elevator hums to life. The fan starts whirring and the lights come on. He turns to the old man and sees how sunken his eyes are, how dry and parched is his skin, and the wet stain on his pajama trousers. The old man tries to wheel himself out, but his hands keep slipping. Ivan looks on for a while before he thinks to help him.
Come now, old man, let me help you. Which is your apartment?
Number 42. I’m sorry, my hands. I don’t know why. I could wheel myself out but not back in again.
Stop apologizing. Please.
(Wheels him just outside the door)
Let me finish here and pack up my tools, and I’ll bring you to your door. Less than a minute.
INT. OLD MAN’S APARTMENT – OUTSIDE FRONT DOOR
Do you have the key?
Here it is.
Ivan surreptitiously wipes it on a greasy rag before handling it. Opens the door, wheels the old man in.
INT. OLD MAN’S APARTMENT
The apartment is small, with old dusty furniture, much of it chipped or broken. The walls look moldy, or it could just be the poor lighting. A few framed photo portraits in black and white are on the wall, but they are warped and stained from damp. A framed medal with a faded ribbon sits on a side table, along with an old framed photo of a young couple, who are the old man and his late wife.
Is anybody else at home?
Do you have a nurse? Your children? Your wife?
Nobody, I live alone now. My wife is dead. The government nurse used to come once a week, but now she only comes once a fortnight. Sometimes she doesn’t come at all. My sons are all grown up.
Ivan looks around for a telephone number to call, some sort of emergency contact. Finds nothing, not even a telephone.
Is there anybody who can help you?
I live alone now. My sons are all grown up. My wife is dead.
Ivan is struggling with himself. Eventually he leans on the backrest of a sofa. Looks at the old man, wrinkles his nose subconsciously, looks at his watch. Frowns, trying to decide what to do.
I can’t leave you like this. Come, where is the toilet. Let me help you.
You are too kind. It is over there, by the kitchen.
Ivan wheels the old man to the toilet.
INT. OLD MAN’S APARTMENT – BATHROOM
The old man is still in his wheelchair. Ivan helps him up and seats him on a plastic stool under the shower. He helps him to undress, and throws away the soiled clothing. The old man alternately puts on a stoic expression and a shameful expression on his face. Ivan switches on the water and hoses down the wheelchair, which has a hard plastic seat. He then runs the water from the shower head for a while, putting his hand in the stream to make sure it’s not too hot. He adjusts the temperature and hands it to the old man, and then hands him a bar of soap. Ties up the rubbish bag containing the soiled clothing, and washes his own hands.
Where are your clean clothes?
On the chair beside my bed. Mrs Koryavov helps me to wash them in her machine.
Ivan carries the rubbish bag out and sets it by the door, to bring it to the bin later.
It is cramped. The old man obviously tries to keep it neat, but the clothes are on a chair beside the bed instead of in the wardrobe because for him putting it into the wardrobe is just wasted effort, and he only has a limited supply of effort to draw upon at his age. Other personal effects are on a small table by the bed. The other furniture in the rest of the room do not looked like they have been touched for years, since his wife died. Ivan picks out a pair of pajamas and underpants, and carries them back.
The old man has finished cleaning himself. Ivan drapes the clothing on a metal bar, takes the shower head from the old man and hoses away the soap suds on the floor before shutting off the water. He hands a towel to the old man, and waits for him to dry himself before handing him the articles of clothing one by one as he puts them on. Ivan stands by, mutely. The sun is beginning to set, and comes in slantingly through the small bathroom window. Ivan dries the seat of the wheelchair with a rag, and helps the old man onto it.
Can you please help me tell Mrs Koryavov that I’m okay now? She helps me to buy food. Thank you so much for your help. I don’t know what I can say. You are so kind, like Mrs Koryavov. I’m sorry that you had to see me like this.
Please, don’t say that. I just want to be a decent man.
Want to be? No you are already a decent man. What is your name?
Ivan Petrovich, please help me with one more favor.
Ivan wheels him into his living room and puts a blanket across his knees.
Help me to tell Mrs Koryavov that I’m okay now. She lives down the hallway. She helps me to buy groceries.
Yes, I will. Good day, old man.
Ivan makes to leave. At the front door he picks up the trash bag that he had set down beside it, looks back and sees the old man already beginning to doze off, and leaves, closing the door quietly behind him.
EXT. RUSSLIFT VAN DRIVING THROUGH MOSCOW – DAY
Bright sunshine. A new day. There is snow on the ground, and the light glints brightly off it.
INT. RUSSLIFT VAN DRIVING THROUGH MOSCOW
Sergei and Ivan are sitting together. Ivan is driving and he looks at his watch after hanging up the radio handset.
Just past noon. No jobs for us now. Let’s go get lunch.
Sergei nods, wordlessly.
EXT. MOSCOW STREET WITH SHOPS – DAY
A row of shops including a takeaway restaurant. Ivan and Sergei emerge, each carrying food (sandwich?) wrapped up in paper and a steaming cup of coffee. They hurry back to the van.
INT. RUSSLIFT VAN
Ivan and Sergei are munching on their sandwiches. Ivan looks about while driving like he is trying to find a place to stop.
What are you looking for?
A shop. You know, one that sells these greeting cards? Isn’t it around here somewhere?
I know which one you mean. It’s just there, see?
INT. GREETING CARD STORE
Ivan walks around, sipping on his coffee. Looks at the greeting cards on display, occasionally picking one up and puzzling over it, and then putting it back again. It is clear that he doesn’t really know what to choose, and that he is not in the habit of choosing cards. He wanders into the “Valentine’s Day” section.
I didn’t know that you’re the sort to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Aren’t you too old for that?
(On being ignored by Ivan, tries harder to provoke him into revealing why he is buying a card)
You know, they say it’s the thought that counts. That’s a real ugly one.
Ivan picks up a really kitschy birthday card, with a cartoon teddy bear holding up a bunch of roses.
I gave one just like that to my first girlfriend. I was fifteen, she was fourteen. She loved it. I gave her another one just like that when she turned fifteen, and she looked at me and said, “is this a joke? Do you think I’m a baby?”
Ivan puts that card down and keeps on browsing. Eventually he finds something vaguely bland and nondescript, with stylized flowers and geometric shapes.
Looks like something I’d send to a distant aunt.
Sergei waits for Ivan to say something. Ivan looks at him, thinks for a while, and accepts the appraisal. He brings the card to the CASHIER.
I’ll take this one.
Two hundred, please.
What? Two hundred rubles for a piece of paper with some flowers printed on it?
That’s what it says on the label. Do you want it or not?
Wordless grumbling as he reaches for his wallet.
INT. IVAN’S APARTMENT – NIGHT
Ivan is standing in front of his wall calendar, and flips to the next month, February. He finds a circled date, and flips back to today’s date. Counts in his head how many days he has before he needs to send the card.
He sits down at his table, which serves as dining table, working table, and card table when Vassily is visiting. The apartment is small for a single man, utterly cramped for a family of three. Like the old man’s apartment, the furniture is old, but unlike the old man, Ivan doesn’t try very hard to keep things in order. There is stuff everywhere, and a small pile of dirty dishes from the past two day’s lunch pushed to a corner of the table.
He fishes out the birthday card, and opens it, smoothing the crease with the back of his hand to keep it open. He starts writing at the head: “Dear Father!” And stops.
He doesn’t know what to say. He thinks for a while, writes the ending: “Your son, Ivan.” Again a pause, and then he adds “With love” after “Your son” and then looks at the blank paper again. The blank space between the salutation and closing stares back at him. He closes the card and puts it away, and then folds his hands and stares at the wall calendar. He is eyeing this coming Saturday, which is circled in red, like every alternate Saturday.
INT. LENA’S APARTMENT – LIVING ROOM – DAY
Just as small as Ivan’s but airier, cleaner, and more feminine in its furnishings. Walls and so on must be dramatically different from Ivan’s apartment so that the viewer can tell immediately that we’re somewhere else. Sunlight from windows. We hear heavy footsteps of ANNA thudding to her room, and the door slams shut.
Anna, what are you doing? Stop sulking and come out of your room!
(She walks into the scene as Ivan follows, grimly)
Look, I’ve got to go to the hairdresser. I’m already late for my appointment. You’re the one who scared her, you’re the one who made her upset, so you go and coax her out of hiding. I don’t have the time.
This is just like you, to blame me for your precious daughter’s bad moods. But hey, it’s your character that she’s got, not mine, okay? Your bad temper…
Don’t get started on this again. Fight fight fight, we keep fighting. I left you to stop the fighting and you come here every two weeks to bring it all back again. What, do you miss the good old days?
Stop just stop being like that, okay?
You stop. You stop being who you are, and then I’ll stop being who I am. And we can be different people. Then we can live together happily. Right? But it’s not going to happen. I’m who I am, you’re who you are, and I’m late.
What do you want me to do? What?
(Fumbles in her purse for a key)
I hate to do this, but I’m going to let you stay here…
(Hands key to Ivan)
… and give you the key. You can wait here for Anna to come out, but then once she’s out, you leave this apartment, understand? I don’t want you poking around my things, either. You always poke poke poke like some kind of spy…
You did the same thing, you did exactly the same to me, I…
I’ve got no time for history lessons now. When she comes out, you bring her to your place, to the playground, wherever. But then you give her the key, and I’ll come to pick her up as usual, understand?
Yes yes yes I get it. Don’t go on and on.
(Shouting to Anna)
Anna! Be a dear and don’t be difficult, okay? Mama will come to pick you up from your Papa’s place, like every time, yes? Mama is going now, Mama has to leave because she is late.
And while you wait, don’t make a mess of the place.
No response from Anna. Lena leaves in a huff, looking accusingly at Ivan. Ivan shakes his head and avoids her angry look. Front door slams. He goes to sit down on a couch, putting his feet up on a table.
Anna! Stop sulking and come out already. I’m going to wait here. Don’t be silly, will you? Don’t be like that.
Still no response. Ivan settles in for a long wait. He folds his hands in his lap, but feels peckish and gets up to go to the fridge.
He opens the fridge and finds a can of beer. He looks at it puzzlingly. Lena doesn’t drink, so whose beer is this? He puts it back and takes out a piece of cheese to nibble on.
He walks to the sink to get a drink of water, but then he notices an expensive new set of cooking knives. Lena couldn’t possibly afford that. He picks one up, looks at the brand. The knives in their sleek holder look completely out of place in the decaying kitchen. He examines the rest of the kitchen more closely. A brochure for a family holiday tour package to a warm place in the Mediterranean.
He scans over the room and notices a gap between the framed photographs on the sideboard. There’s a portrait of Lena and Anna, gap, and a portrait of Lena’s parents. And other photographs to the left and right to complete the row. He opens the first drawer to look. A photograph of Lena, Anna, and another man, taken at some fun fair booth.
Ivan walks over to Anna’s bedroom door. She’s no longer crying. He puts his ear to the door, and hears electronic sounds from Angry Birds or some other computer game played on a smart phone.
What are you doing, Anna?
(Sob-shakey voice, that children have after a bout of crying and they’re still calming down, but distracted)
Playing a game.
Is that a new toy that you have?
Can I come to see it?
Can I come in to see it?
Do you want to talk to Papa?
Do you want to spend time with Papa today?
Anna, if you don’t want to talk to Papa, then I’m going to go now, okay?
I’m going to leave the key on the coffee table, alright? Call your mother later and tell her that you’re still at home, so she doesn’t have to take the bus to my place. Okay? That’s important, that you call your mother, alright?
(Raps on the door)
Hey I’m telling you something important, so listen. The key is on the coffee table. Call your mother. Okay?
I’m going now. Bye Anna.
Exasperated look in his face, frustrated but trying to conceal his complete heartbreak. He looks again at the pictures on the sideboard, rearranges them so that the gap is no longer there, and brushes his fingers gently over the picture of Anna, and then leaves.
INT. MECHANICAL ROOM IN A BUILDING
Ivan is finishing up a mechanical repair, plenty of wrenching and grease and slipping chains. Sergei stands by, wiping his hands, handing him tools. Phone rings. Ivan stops to answer it.
This is Vassily speaking. Ivan, come join me at the sauna. I’m going tonight.
You know I can’t afford to go every week. And don’t call me when I’m working.
(Taps on some spinning machinery)
I could lose a finger if I’m not careful.
(Points wrench at Sergei, then at something else)
You don’t be idle, tidy up that repair.
No no, this will be my treat, for your birthday. When is your birthday, anyway?
INT. SAUNA STEAM ROOM
Ivan and Vassily are the only two people there. Vassily has his eyes closed, leaning back, talking. His posture is that of the host who owns the place and is comfortably perched in his domain. Ivan is a bit more nervous, trying to relax. He tries to mimic Vassily’s pose, but keeps opening his eyes and adjusting his posture to be more comfortable. Tired of fidgeting, he tries conversation to distract himself.
What would you do if you were trapped in an elevator with somebody?
(Looks around at the box-like steam room. It’s dim and hazy.)
If I was trapped with you, I think we’d be doing pretty much the same thing as we are now. Why are you always thinking about your elevators?
It’s the best thing that I have to think about.
Why not think about that Irina that you always talk with on the radio?
Oh there’s nothing to say. We’re just bantering.
Are you still worried about Anna?
What else, right? She doesn’t want to spend time with me. Every two weeks I travel across the city to see her, and then I have to travel all the way back empty-handed because she’s locked herself in her room, or she’s got a new toy to play with, or she says she’s sick. She hates me. My own daughter hates me.
Well, she lives with her mother. Children learn by imitation, like monkeys. Her mother hates you, therefore, she hates you too. QED.
She’s so ungrateful.
(Sits up, becomes serious, looks directly at Ivan)
Ungrateful? What does she have to be grateful for? For you screwing that young waitress and ruining her family? For shouting at her mother all the time? For drinking too much when you get home late, and making a fuss about not having a ready dinner? For giving custody of her up without a fight, and then complaining later that she doesn’t want to spend time with you?
Ivan is shocked by this sudden outburst, and doesn’t know how to respond.
Ivan, you’re my friend, but I have to tell you the truth. And the truth is, you can’t make someone love you. Sometimes you do all that you can, but love is love and it can’t be earned like a business earns money. The past can’t be changed, and you know that. You know you’ve made a mistake, many mistakes, with them in the past. You’re destroying yourself, you know? I had to talk to you because you’ve changed to me too. You brood more, you are morose.
You can’t make Anna love you after all that’s happened. You say you want to change things, but maybe it’s too late to try. Let it go. And if fate is kind, she will one day be reconciled to you.
INT. RUSSLIFT VAN THROUGH MOSCOW – DAY
Ivan is driving with Sergei. Sergei looks hung over. Ivan looks grumpy and irritable. He has been thinking about his daughter, and what Vassily said, and he doesn’t like where his conclusions are supposed to go. Ivan is listening to the briefing by Irina.
IRINA K (O.S.)
Twelfth floor. Only one elevator in the building. Over.
Okay. Nobody trapped?
IRINA K (O.S.)
No call from emergency phone. Residents called to complain when they couldn’t take lift in morning when going to work. About 3 hours down already. Over.
IRINA K (O.S.)
Are you all right? You don’t sound like you’re well. If you are not feeling well I can dispatch another mechanic. Alpha One Three is also available. Over.
No I’ll do it. Sergei and I will do it. We’ll do it.
IRINA K (O.S.)
Very well. Nothing further to add. Over and out.
INT. APARTMENT BUILDING – STAIRWELL
Sergei and Ivan are walking up to the mechanical room at the top of the building. It’s a tall building and they are both getting tired. A RESIDENT, a crotchety old man, is walking downstairs and bumps into them.
So you’re finally here! It took you long enough. We called an hour ago. What took you so long? You’re so late, that everybody who had to go to school or go to work already left. Taking your time, eh?
Sorry, but we came here directly after getting the call. It’s up to dispatch central to monitor and inform us about new cases.
And how long is it going to take? Where are you going anyway? The elevator is stalled at the twelfth floor. Are you going to the roof for a smoke, instead?
That’s where the mechanical room is. There’s nobody in the elevator car anyway. It’s an electrical failure so we need to check the circuits. Now please, we have work to do.
ANOTHER RESIDENT is coming up the stairs. A woman carrying groceries.
Russlift men! Finally they come. And how much do we pay every month for maintenance fees? What is that lightning bolt on your uniform supposed to mean?
Ivan brushes past the residents, who continues giving them a sour look. Sergei is struggling to keep up with his hangover.
INT. APARTMENT BUILDING – MECHANICAL ROOM
Ivan surveys the damage, while Sergei is checking a box with a flashlight.
You should be able to figure out for yourself right now what the problem is.
Total electrical failure. Fuses have to be replaced, but we don’t have this one in the toolkit. It’s a really old type. Do we have any in the van?
(Takes a look for himself)
I think so. The wiring also has to be redone, but we’ll need to switch off power at the main board first. It’s downstairs, too.
Does that mean that I… I… I’ll handle the repairs here while you deal with the main board. I think I need more experience in this sort of repair so I’ll stay.
Fat chance. You go downstairs.
(Sergei sighs theatrically)
Your own fault for going out to party on a Wednesday night.
It’s my cousin, he’s getting married.
Who gets married on a Wednesday? Have some consideration for others, he should have. Anyway, take your time. Those residents complain too much. I’m in no hurry to help them.
MECHANICAL ROOM – LATER
Sergei and Ivan are standing over an electronic panel. Ivan is flicking a switch. Nothing happens. Disconnects a part, puts another part in. Flicks a switch. Same response. Repeat. Finally a light comes on.
Very good. Let’s take a break for lunch. I’m hungry.
Come on, we haven’t finished yet. I just want to be done with this and leave. It’s not funny any more.
Fine. We have to go to the elevator car to manually reset the controls there.
INT. APARTMENT BUILDING – LIFT LOBBY
Sergei uses his key to reactivate the doors, while Ivan stands by, leaning on a wall. The doors open, he is about to swing inside to access the control panel when he stops. Faint sound of sobbing. A LITTLE GIRL is curled up in a corner, sobbing. Ivan notices that Sergei stopped, and gets up to see what’s wrong. He sees the girl too and the color drains from his face.
Oh shit oh shit oh shit.
He kneels down in front of the girl.
The lights, dammit!
Sergei fumbles at the panel, hits a button. The fans start whirring again, the lights flicker on. The girl shields her face from the sudden brightness.
Girl, can you hear me? It’s okay now. We’ve fixed the lift. We’re here to bring you home. What’s your name? Can you hear me?
The girl shakes her head and is too weak from crying to respond further.
At least tell me where you live? Is your mother at home? Your father?
Sergei looks around, sees the girl’s school bag in the other corner of the elevator. There is a name tag with an address.
Ivan, she was on her way to school. Her bag’s got her name on it. She’s Natalya, grade 3, lives on fourteenth floor, apartment number 2.
Hit the button for fourteen.
The doors start to close and the girl starts trembling and shaking and Ivan sticks his foot out to stop the door.
Can’t do. She’s too scared of this elevator. I’ll carry her up. Sergei, grab the bag. Let’s go.
Ivan hefts the girl up. She has her eyes closed and her face is all messy from tears and snot. Ivan wipes her nose with his handkerchief as he slowly walks with her in his arms, out to the lobby, and then to the stairs. Camera PANS UPWARDS to show the stairs spiraling upwards, and we hear Ivan’s soft voice trying to comfort the girl, words indistinct.
EXT. RUSSLIFT VAN THROUGH STREETS – EVENING
INT. RUSSLIFT VAN THROUGH STREETS – EVENING
Ivan and Sergei are looking sober and pensive. Neither are in the mood to talk. Ivan sees something.
I’ve got to check in on something.
EXT. OLD MAN’S APARTMENT BUILDING – EVENING
Russlift van pulls up at the bottom again. Ivan comes out and speaks to Sergei before closing the door.
I won’t be too long. I just need to check on something that I fixed, to make sure that the repair will hold.
INT. OLD MAN’S APARTMENT BUILDING – FIFTEENTH FLOOR LANDING
Shot of elevator doors. They open and Ivan steps out. TWO BUILDERS with stepladders come by.
Hold that door, please!
(Reaches the door)
The old man’s apartment door is open, people are walking in and out. Workers are remodeling the apartment and Ivan has to make his way through scattered paint cans and tool boxes. He speaks to a WORKER.
Excuse me, but do you know where is the old man?
The old man. The one that lives here. In this apartment.
I’m just working here. I’ve got no idea.
The FOREMAN comes over, looking suspiciously at this stranger talking to his workers.
Who are you? Who are you working for?
(Sees his uniform and tool belt)
Are you the electrician?
No I’m not. I’m just here to… I’m… I’m a neighbor. I wanted to talk to the old man who lives here.
No one lives here. We’re remodeling it. Who can live in this place while we’re working?
Okay, so he used to live here. Do you know where he is? I’m sure this is the right apartment.
Hey, if you don’t work here, and you don’t own this place, it’s none of your business. It’s best if you just leave now.
Ivan walks along the corridor, looking back over his shoulder but the foreman has already disappeared back into the apartment. He rounds a corner and sees a door with the name KORYAVOV on the name plate. He knocks, and MRS KORYAVOV comes to the door.
Can I help you?
Yes. Can I help you? Who are you?
Ivan Petrovich. I… I was the one who left the note on your door about Mr Koroviv.
Ah, so you are the one. It was very decent of you to help him like that. He told me about you. Not many people would do that, you know? Nobody respects the aged any more.
Where is Mr Koroviv? His apartment….
I didn’t get to say bye to him either. He just moved out suddenly one weekend. Well, not him. He was moved out suddenly. His sons are refurbishing the apartment, they want to rent it out.
Where is he now? Do you know?
I don’t know. The foreman doesn’t know. I haven’t met the sons. I don’t really want to, anyway. Moved him to a nursing home, I imagine.
It’s probably better for him, then he’d have people to look after him full-time.
You’ve not visited the cheaper nursing homes before, have you? Maybe you’re right. It’s just that… Well, you can guess how I feel about what happened.
Thank you for telling me what you know. If you find out anything more, please call me.
(Fishes a pen and scrap of paper from pocket, writes down his number)
There. Please let me know. Thank you.
Thank you too. I’m sorry you came by in vain. Good bye.
INT. IVAN’S APARTMENT – NIGHT
Ivan sits at his table. Everything is the same as before, including the dirty dishes, but in a different configuration. He brings out the birthday card again, and stares at it. He still can’t figure out what to write, what to say. He looks at it a long time, then closes it, and puts it back in the drawer.
He looks at the calendar. There are just two more days to go before the date circled in blue. He thinks for a while, and puts on his jacket. He steps outside. We hear the door close and lock shut.
INT. IVAN’S FATHER’S APARTMENT – NIGHT
Ivan knocks on the door. IVAN’S FATHER shuffles up to it. We hear coughing, a pause as he peeks in the peephole, and then the door is unlatched. Tellingly, the chain is left on.
Ivan? Why are you here?
Ivan smiles and points to the chain. Ivan’s father unlatches the chain.
An early happy birthday, father.
He reaches in to give the surprised old man a hug.