Logline: A Young Italian woman, who suffered a traumatic incident in Florence, Italy, during WWII, comes to terms with her past through an unlikely relationship she forges over the course of a lifetime with the statue of Dante in the Piazza di Santa Croce.
Act 1 Summary
We are in the piazza of Santa Croce (Florence, Italy). The year is 1946 and our view is in black and white. The basilica is magnificent as is the statue of Dante which is flanked by lions and looms high in the middle of the square. At first glance, the scene seems cheerful enough but all too soon we learn that something far deeper, more complex, lies beneath the veneer of normality and it’s this that we are left yearning to explore.
Enter a Young Woman carrying an armful of books and whom we view from the perspective of the statue’s gaze. It’s clear, even from a distance, that the woman has some minor mobility issues, but she manages to find a table at a cafe that overlooks the statue and attempts to sit down. She gets assistance from a Young Waiter who then fusses over her.
Everything seems almost normal until we realize four things: her face and hands are scarred from shrapnel, she orders a menu for two when she is always alone, and perhaps most importantly, she engages in a monologue with Dante that occurs entirely within her own mind. We also get the distinct feeling that this whole story will begin and end in the spaces between the piazza and the cafe. At first the story seems simple, but as time wears on and the woman begins to reveal small, personal things about herself (to the statue), we realize there is far more going on than at first meets the eye. This is partly achieved by a persistent visual counterpoint that occurs between Dante’s face, the Piazza, the empty chair, and her own face. But it is also surmised from the books she endlessly reads and the sparse monologue where gestures and visuals are relied upon more than words in this act and where the visuals convey to the reader a sense of space, mystery, and longing while ultimately tugging at a backstory.
Act 2 Summary
Time passes and the same scene repeats week after week, month after month and year after year. Dante is her sole dinner date each Saturday night and it’s with him that she orders food for the empty chair in front, lights a cigarette, and then engages with him in her mind. As their one-way conversations gradually increase, we can understand how the pair forges a unique bond, but also highlights an oftentimes tense emotional push-pull between the two. For it becomes clear that the young woman struggles with internal conflicts and these conflicts are fed to the reader almost as though afterthoughts. Again, she only reveals what she wants us to know and this creates a pervasive sense of mystery. Although the conversations seem pretty straightforward up until now, they soon delve into much deeper emotional terrain.
The latter first occurs when the young woman lets Dante in on the fact that nothing can be done about her ominous medical condition, a condition she lets us know little about other than the fact that because of it, she can’t bear any children. She also reveals that her mother became hysterical over her inability to not be able to give her any grandchildren and remarry (due to her disfigurement). To the young woman, her mother’s shortsighted and somewhat selfish actions serve as a double loss and only heighten her grief in an already tragic situation. But this idea is only hinted at.
Eventually however, the dialogue between the older woman and Dante becomes more pointed and this occurs when she asks Dante about his Inferno and if there happens to be a ring in hell for those who create wars. However, she quickly cancels her question because, “Even if we combined all the rings of hell into one, it would never be enough punishment for those who create wars.”
Meanwhile, the camera continues to jump between Dante’s frozen expression to that of her own while her own physical movements are largely confined to us observing her smoking a cigarette and occasionally eating. This is in sharp contrast to the overall mood of the rest of the cafe and the piazza where we witness ordinary Tuscan vignettes playing out in an almost nostalgic, idealized fashion. When the camera repeatedly punctuates the scene with Dante’s face, the food that is never touched, and the empty chair (at the setting across from the young woman), we also feel that the food she orders each time can only be meant for him.
Act 3 Summary
Suddenly, we are escorted out of the era of black and white film into that of colored film. The fact that the woman is no longer young but now an Older Woman coupled with the statue being moved to the left of the basilica after the great flood of Florence, makes the observer more acutely aware of the passage of time. Here, the conversations with Dante continue while a visual counterpoint plays out between a thin curl of smoke from the woman’s cigarette, to the pristine sky, to Dante’s face and then to the basilica. And as she reveals to him a romantic dream she’d had about him, we begin to understand the scope of her solitude.
Not long after she reveals the dream, we learn of a man named Matteo, whom, in a near whisper she reveals to Dante, was her “great, great, love.” This admission sets off an almost rapid fire emotional outpouring in which we learn of Matteo’s death and how he was tragically killed when he accidentally stepped on a line of undetonated bombs in a park while running towards her. In his right hand he was carrying a bouquet of wildflowers while in his left, he wore their engagement ring. We now witness an intimate window into her lifetime of guilt when she explains to Dante through tears that it was her fault that Matteo died because it was she who’d convinced him to meet her at that location so they could be alone. Although Dante does not, and cannot respond, we become acutely aware of how he almost transforms into something living until the older woman announces to him that the gift he gave her over all these years was the ability to realize that she was alive and not made of stone.
In a final emotional conversation with Dante, the old woman reveals that the real difference between her and other people (with respect to her scars), is that she is “inside-out while they are out-side in.” We also see, for the very first time, a small gold ring by the plate of untouched food in front of her and this leaves us to question whether or not the food was for Dante, Matteo or both.
The scene ends with the woman walking away, across the piazza and towards the Arno but as a Very Old Woman. And as the woman disappears into the night, the candle at her table is blown out by the young waiter and the screen goes dark.
Moments later, the names of some of the people lost during WWII scroll in white across the screen.
This story was inspired by the author’s own conversations with Dante that occurred years ago and from fragments of war-time stories she’d heard from others.
Written by Katherine Diane Schimmel (USA)