In last month’s Scene4 I presented the Opening Scenes of my screenplay. THE GODDESS IN EXILE is a fictionalized account of the brief life of Cuban artist Ana Mendieta that deals with themes of wife murder, the natural versus the man-made world and the mythic feminine. Ana Mendieta’s death at age 36 became a scandal that rocked the art world at its zenith making headlines ["Sculptor in Village Reindited in the 1985 Death of His Wife", New York Times; "A Death in Art", cover feature New York Magazine]. My screenplay adapts the story of her alleged murder by her husband, prominent conceptual artist Carl Andre, who was acquitted by a judge without a jury and explores the premise ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’. The action takes place in the vivid milieu of the New York City art scene in the 1970's-80's, capturing the excitement of the
avant-garde intelligentsia with character vignettes from the highest echelons of American artists and art world doyennes. Elvira, my character’s work evolves from terra cotta sculptures of female figures in allegorical relationship to their spiritual growth to a portrayal of the divine feminine on-site in natural settings. Her work is the antithesis of Hans’ art that fills empty space with geometric configurations
In these following scenes Joanne, Elvira’s best friend, visits her studio a week after Elvira’s death and moistens the rags protecting her terra cotta sculptures. She discovers a statue of a female Christ on a wood cross and reads the last passage from Elvira’s diary that reveals Han’s affair and her intention to leave the marriage. When Joanne looks at the roof below the studio’s window she imagines Elvira’s body covered in a white sheet after she was pushed by her husband out the window. The camera zooms to her hand that comes alive as Elvira digging clay from a mountain near her home in Huancayo, Peru. As Elvira skips down to the foothills she becomes a young girl and runs onto the porch of her father’s ranch.
When Elvira visits her maid Maria, who became her surrogate mother, she kisses the scars Maria’s husbands afflicted. Her mix of pity and contempt sparks Elvira’s impulse to portray feminize mysteries in her art. When she travels with her father, Dr. Olmos, through the mountain villages she witnesses poverty and disease and when she assists him in delivering babies she encounters the power of birth. These scenes present Elvira’s motivation inherent in her art that portrays our deep connection with nature and the earth.
THE GODDESS IN EXILE
9 - EXT. ELVIRA'S PERUVIAN HOME, GARDEN - SUMMER DAY
When ELVIRA reaches her home she runs through the flower garden picking a few flowers and gathers two small bouquets. She jumps up the porch calling for the MARIA, the maid.
Maria, Maria - where are you? (Donde tu estas?)
10 - INT. ELVIRA'S PERUVIAN HOME, GARDEN - SUMMER DAY
ELVIRA runs through her home, rustically but elegantly furnished, and pulls open the door of the maid's room.
11 - INT. ELVIRA'S PERUVIAN HOME, MARIA'S ROOM – SUMMER DAY
MARIA [a middle-aged native Indian woman] sits on her bed wearing a slip, chewing cocaine leaves with her hands holding a rosary saying Novenas to a statute of Mary that stands on her private altar.
ELVIRA sits on the bed next to MARIA and studies the altar on its table; the statute and strange sacred relics; lockets of hair, small bones, fruits and candles, as MARIA finishes her prayers.
When MARIA is finished praying, ELVIRA hands her a bouquet. MARIA puts them in a vase on her altar.
Pretty, give kisses before we go. (Los flores son lindas - da besos antes deirte.)
ELVIRA repeats a long-standing ritual between them. MARIA turns her back to ELVIRA. MARIA has a long knife scar on her left shoulder.
ELVIRA kisses the scar.
First husband, knife. (Primer marido cuchillo.)
MARIA turns around and we see she has a scar on her right cheek. ELVIRA kisses it.
Second husband, fork. (Secundo Marido cercar.)
MARIA stands up, raises her slip and pulls down her pants to display a long caesarian scar on her lower abdomen.
Third husband, killed baby. (Terso marido mato bebe.)
ELVIRA kisses the scar.
Healed by Mother Mary. (St. Madre Maria cura.)
MARIA puts on her dress, takes ELVIRA'S hand and they leave the room.
12 - EXT. ELVIRA'S PERUVIAN HOME, FRONT PORCH – SUMMER DAY
MARIA and ELVIRA step off the front porch.
ELVIRA'S father, DR.OLMOS (The district doctor is an elegant man of Spanish descent, with a strong build, olive skin and salt and pepper hair in his early 50's wearing a white cotton shirt) honks the horn of a beat-up Chevy gesturing for them to hurry.
When ELVIRA jumps on to the front seat, she reaches over her father's doctor bag to give him a kiss. MARIA opens the back door and sits in the back still holding her rosary. They shut the doors.
13 - AERIAL SHOT PERUVIAN COUNTRYSIDE - DAY
This shot follows the Chevy making its journey on a narrow dirt road through the vast territory.
14 – INT. CHEVY, PERUVIAN COUNTRYSIDE - DAY
As the car travels, DR. OLMOS turns on a portable radio that sits on the front seat that plays popular native folk songs. ELVIRA and MARIA sing along.
ELVIRA (voice over)
My beloved father was a doctor who worked for the government but he never had enough medicine. I traveled every week to the villages with him.
15 - EXT. PERUVIAN COUNTRYSIDE - DAY
POV the car window, bands of colorfully dressed Indians followed by processions of llamas, break the monotony of the trip.
16 - EXT. PERUVIAN COUNTRYSIDE CEMETERY - DAY
In a wild region of hills, the Chevy stops at a small cemetery and ELVIRA jumps out of the car with her bouquet. DR. OLMOS and MARIA follow her up a hill and watch as she puts flowers on her mother's simple grave topped by a white wooden cross, where we read the inscription - "Señora MRS. ROSA OLMOS 1930-1961". DR. OLMOS looks sadly at the grave.
Peace, my beloved wife. (Descansa en pace.)
MARIA makes the sign of a cross. ELVIRA, MARIA and DR. OLMOS return to the car.
[NOTE: Throughout the shots in Peru, we are aware of the simple character of the haunting rough terrain of hills which will later contrast with the complex glamorous steel and concrete maze of New York City.]
17 - EXT. PERUVIAN VILLAGE PIAZZA - DAY
When the doctor's car arrives at the piazza, the peasants who have gathered in the square surround the car shouting welcomes, open its doors and throw in food they have saved for him as gifts; chickens, coffee beans, peppers, corn and herbs. DR. OLMOS gets out of the car, smiles, but with a quick commanding gesture, the peasants obey and line up with the smallest children first.
CROWD OF PEASANTS (cheering)
Dr. Olmos! Dr. Olmos!
ELVIRA (voice over)
When the mountain people were sick they cannot afford to go to the city hospital. So, my father brought the children home and cared for them as best he could until they died or were cured. When the children lined up to see him, I watched his hands study their small bodies. Just by pressing his fingers on a little stomach he could tell the sickness mostly caused by bad water. I will never forget the wisdom of his hands and the ancient sad look on the children's faces.
DR. OLMOS places a boy of about 8 on a concrete platform. The child has strange marks on his stomach and as DR. OLMOS studies them with his hands, he looks concerned. DR. OLMOS motions for the child's father to come forward.
Your son must go to the hospital immediately.
But, I have no money. (No tengo denero.)
I will take him myself. He is not contagious.
DR. OLMOS motions for ELVIRA to come and get the child. ELVIRA takes the boy inside the car.
18 - INT. CHEVY PERUVIAN VILLAGE- DAY
ELVIRA and the BOY laugh and play. MARIA, in the back seat with sacks of food on her lap, hands ELVIRA a bag of toy blocks. The BOY pulls out a handful of colorful wood blocks and ELVIRA plays with him.
19 - INT. PERUVIAN HOME, DR. OLMOS’OFFICE – DAY
CLOSE SHOT of the closed door to DR. OLMOS office.
We hear the SOUND of a newborn baby’s cry. ELVIRA, who as acted as a mid-wife with MARIA, opens the door carrying a bucket of water and towels. Through the open door we see MARIA hold a peasant’s woman’s child in her arms.
20 - EXT. PERUVIAN CHAPEL - DAY
ELVIRA joins a peasant funeral procession that carries the casket of the young BOY who has not survived towards the country chapel.
21 - INT. PERUVIAN CHAPEL - DAY
A service is being held for the BOY. The BOY is laid out in a small coffin in front of the altar with candles and flowers in front of a primitive wooden statute of Christ.
ELVIRA enters the church wearing a black dress. She studies the crafted wood statues of Mary that adorn the chapel walls: Mary alone; Mary holding the child; Mary standing on a snake. When ELVIRA sits alone in a pew, she studies a statue to the left the hardest. The Minister's sermon can be heard faintly in the background. It is a statue of Mary holding Christ's robes with outstretched arms.
CAMERA ZOOMS in on the statue's compassionate face with wooden tears.
22 - INT. ELVIRA'S PERUVIAN HOME, KITCHEN - MIDDAY
CLOSE SHOT of an elementary clay figure of a naked woman in a similar pose to the statute of Mary in the chapel.
CAMERA ZOOMS from the clay figure to a Queen on chessboard.
The hands [with wedding ring] of ROBERTO [professor and neighbor of DR. OLMOS, a middle-aged man with dark hair and mustache] swiftly move his pieces to perform checkmate.
Checkmate (Dar Mate!).
DR. OLMOS and ROBERTO are seated at the long table in DR. OLMOS' large, rustic kitchen. ELVIRA, now 17, is sculpting in the bg. DR. OLMOS rests back in his chair, happily defeated.
You, Roberto, and Elvira are the only people I allow to beat me at anything...
ROBERTO studies the face of his friend and the budding figure of ELVIRA.
...and still you don't look for a wife?
What do I have to offer? My heart, I gave to Elvira's mother - my money, I give to sick peasants and my care - Maria and Elvira care for me. Elvira, bring us some coffee.
ELVIRA takes a pot off the stove, pours two cups of coffee and serves ROBERTO and her father. As she sets the cup near her father, he places his hand affectionately on hers.
ELVIRA (voice over)
My father's character was so strong and good - his love for me so pure, he instilled my trust in men, I now regret.