by Pier Paolo Pasolini
Translated by Elizabeth A. Castelli
Preface by Alain Badiou
Introduction by Ward Blanton
It is a meeting of antifascists in exile.
Accompanied by Ananias, Paul arrives among them, at the table where the leaders of the clandestine movement are talking.
Those present are amazed by this, and wonder:
‘But is he the one who exterminated the worshippers of this name?’
‘And didn’t he even come here to hunt the faithful and drag them, enchained, before the high priests?’
At this point the notes of the first musical soundtrack of the film are heard (it is a revolutionary song – perhaps the same one that accompanies the first moments of Christ’s preaching in The Gospel According to Matthew).
Those present at the meeting continue with their comments – which now are of a modern, historical, present-day character:
‘Isn’t he a fascist?’
‘A collaborator with the SS?’
‘Isn’t he a fanatic, a willing and exalted servant of power?’
‘Isn’t he, and didn’t he declare himself the most zealous of the most zealous promoters of the traditions?’
‘And aren’t the traditions for him authority and hate, racism and discrimination?’
Bit by bit the murmurings of the assembly calm down, and in the big room where the exiles are meeting, silence falls.
Paul looks around and begins to speak (he has a mysterious smile, unbelievable in that face distorted by fanaticism), and looking around humbly, he says in a deep voice, in the way the first words of a hymn are uttered:
‘Christ has liberated us for freedom.’
18. Hotel room in Barcelona. Interior. (Night.)
Also in the room where Paul was staying, is a meeting – of fascists. The high official or high bureaucrat who gave the credential letters to Paul in Paris participates. There are also Falangists, in uniform. And some horrible faces of servants, armed like gangsters, the subproletariat Sicarii of the triumphalist bourgeoisie.
19. Ananias’s house in Barcelona. Interior. (Night.)
Paul and Ananias share the same poor little room and the same bed: they sleep, one at the head and one at the foot.
But then there is frantic knocking at the door.
Ananias gets up and goes to open it.
Paul hears him conferring secretly and anxiously in the corridor with a young man.
At the end of these excited discussions, Ananias turns toward Paul: anguish and resignation, terror and the sense of inevitability are mixed together in his good eyes.
Paul has understood: he gets up, dresses quickly, snatches up his meagre belongings: then, followed by Ananias, he flees the room.
20. Alley of the house of Ananias. Exterior. (Night.)
The two companions flee, in the midst of the chaos of the alley, among the little bars of the seaside city, with the lights on in the middle of the night, songs, etc. The comings and goings of sailors and drunks, the laughter of whores, etc.
‘What do you propose to do?’
‘I will not consult with flesh and blood, and I will not travel to Jerusalem near those who were apostles before me, but I will go into the desert …’ [Gal. 1:16–17]
21. Against the sky. Exterior. (Day.)
An old, noble, mysterious man, with a face marked by physical fatigue and clear, extremely mild eyes, speaks directly at the spectator of the film:
‘No desert will be more deserted than a house, a plaza, a street where people live in the 1970s after Christ. Here is solitude. Side by side with your neighbour, dressed from the same department stores as you, customer in the same stores as you, reader of the same newspapers as you, spectators of the same television as you, there is silence.
‘There is no other metaphor of the desert than everyday life.
‘This is not representable since it is the shadow of life: and its silences are interior. It is a blessing of peace. But peace is not always better than war. In a peace dominated by power, one can only protest by not wanting to exist.
‘I am the author of the Acts of the Apostles.’
(passage of three years in the desert).
22. Streets of Paris. Exterior. (Day.)
Paul is ‘led by the hand of Barnabas’ through the streets of Paris: still deserted, lost in the odour of war’s death, etc.
They pass in front of the Sorbonne.
They look at the school where they had studied together. They pass through other streets of old Paris. They arrive in front of an anonymous house, with small shops below, and enter.
Reappearance of ‘sick’ Paul.
23. House of clandestine meeting in Paris. Interior. (Day.)
Inside the house (similar to the one where we saw them meeting clandestinely the first time), there are the apostles and their disciples (a meeting always analogous to one of the FLN) [Front de Libération Nationale/National Liberation Front of Algeria].
Barnabas introduces Paul to Peter and the others: ‘Do not look on him with suspicion: the Lord appeared to him and spoke to him on the street in Damascus, and here in the city he has preached boldly in the name of Jesus …’
Peter, suspicious, out of duty (as a leader of the partisans confronted by a new unknown comrade) asks:
‘Why do you do it?’
A long close-up of Paul (profoundly marked by his meditation in the desert, which lasted three years – and perhaps already tormented and deformed by his mysterious bodily illness), who speaks, illuminated, and says:
‘If I evangelize, it is not for me an advantage … I do it because it is absolutely necessary for me to do it. Woe to me if I do not evangelize!’ [1 Cor. 9:16]
Dissolve on Peter’s brotherly smile.
24. Paris. Notre-Dame or some other large church. Interior. (Day.)
(There will first be a full shot of Notre-Dame seen from the outside.)
Paul is kneeling down on a bench, immersed in prayer.
Next to him is Barnabas.
The profound silence of the cathedral is broken by a weak, intermittent uproar: gunshots, perhaps, or a distant bombing. It is barely perceptible, yet nevertheless terrible.
Abruptly Paul interrupts the concentration of prayer as if he had suddenly seen or heard something. And in fact a voice (heard only by him) reverberates:
‘Hurry and leave the city, because your testimony on my behalf, here, will not be heard.’
Paul responds to the voice of Christ:
‘Lord, these people know that I went from synagogue to synagogue to arrest and enchain those who believed in you; and when the blood of your witness Stephen was shed, I also was present, among the killers …’
And the voice of God:
‘I will send you far away, close to the nations of the Gentiles …’
Paul is again mute, contorted, and the voice of God has barely stopped resonating when, from the bottom of the door of the immense cathedral, a group advances, two or three people, in a hurry, agitated, as ones who are in a terrible haste, or driven by fear.
These people come close to Paul and Barnabas who are praying, and bring their news with a frightened air:
‘They are on your trail, Paul, and they are looking for you …’ ‘They searched the house where you live …’
‘You have to escape, to hide …’
Barnabas, more practical than Paul in these matters – having been persecuted like this for some time – makes the decision that seems to him the most correct:
‘You should return to Tarsus, the city where you were born, among your own people … You will be hidden there … they will not find you … etc.’
All together, they go, almost running toward the door of the church, through which a beam of dazzling sun enters into the painful semi-darkness: the weak, remote sounds of bombardment continue to echo.
25. European city. Interior – exterior. (Day.)
Seen from the outside, the house where Paul lived as a boy, which presents itself immediately as the house of very rich people, very respectable and also very discreet. No exterior luxury, no waste: it could be an Art Nouveau building, of good taste, etc., with a garden in front, surrounded by discreet walls or wrought-iron gates, etc.
A magnolia tree, in a slightly humid corner, reaches to touch a large window on the second floor: it is the window of Paul’s studio. The interior is like the exterior: built and furnished in an epoch of bourgeois bad taste, yet with a certain feeling for the life that had to have dominated the masters of the house – that is, the parents of Paul. In everything there is a certain severe grace.
Paul is seated at his old desk (tall, substantial, walnut, carved);
he is pale, contorted, tired, with a long beard, weak, exhausted. He is caught in the grip of his physical malady, which causes him to suffer dreadfully.
With his face contorted so, he is fixed upon two photographs (both with dedications to him from his parents): one shows two rich bourgeois, smiling and full of an ancient dignity, his father and his mother. The other shows himself as a child: a student in the first or second grade, with a medal and a ribbon pinned to his chest.
Then, as if to seek relief, he gets up from the chair and, almost staggering, goes toward the big window, looking outside.
The house is clearly on the crest of a hill, since a large part of the city, sloping down toward the port, appears from the window.
The sea shines, blue and vacant – far away.
Boats and ships plough through it.
Seeing the city of his birth at his feet, Paul has a weak, discouraged smile, and mumbles in a fashion barely audible:
‘I am a Jewish man, from Tarsus, citizen of a city not unknown in Cilicia …’ [Acts 21:39]
On the same street where Paul’s parents’ villa rises, there is a school, a gymnasium. It is noontime (the bells and sirens sound): the children begin to exit the school, which is obviously (or mysteriously) the same one that Paul frequented as an adolescent. It is a school of rich children; this is apparent. And while they swarm, waiting for them outside the door of the gymnasium are the mothers, calm and elegant, who have precisely the appearance of rich bourgeois ladies; meanwhile, drivers wait for the children of their masters, near their cars.
One of these young men can be seen: a handsome and pale boy, closed in on himself, dressed almost exactly as the child Paul in the photograph, who, without a smile, follows a driver, who opens the door of the dark car for him, and respectfully helps him enter. He makes himself comfortable, always serious in the big seat, resting the books rigidly on his knees.
Paul observes this fleeting scene, identical to those in which he was the protagonist at one time, so many times before – he recognizes himself in that serious and almost gloomy boy. Just then, a disconsolate smile sadly illuminates the face of the sick man, and he mutters bitterly, but in a fashion barely audible, to himself:
‘Circumcised on the eighth day … of the people of Israel … of the tribe of Benjamin … Hebrew from the Hebrews … Pharisee in relation to the Law …’ [Phil. 3:5]
He moves away from the window, and although suffering, passes through the whole house (which, just by following him, we will discover and describe), goes out the service door, passes through the garden and enters some sort of out-building, next to a greenhouse. This ‘out-building’ is an artisanal laboratory, outfitted for the production of manufactured textiles. Paul positions himself at a loom and, absorbed and sad, he begins to work.
Then, suddenly, as if struck by lightning, Paul is knocked over and falls to the ground, remaining immobile, without a sign of life.