1930: Osip and Nadezhda Mandelstam travel to Armenia on the last trip of their life together. The Russian poet is looking for the gift of word, after years of silence, in the country he considers to be the cradle of European civilization. The dream comes true but, back in Moscow, he is sentenced to confinement and later to death for having written verses unpleasant to the soviet rulers.

80 years later, in the Caucasus, only rubble is left of the Soviet Union. Mandelstam's travel starts again where it had interrupted, in a region at the crossroads of different worlds, suspended between past and future. The documentary retraces the poet's itinerary, from an abandoned seafront in Sukhumi to the mountains of Nagorno Karabakh. But this time the traveler is accompanied by the words of Nadezhda, who has learnt by heart her husband's poetry in order to pass it over to the future generations. And to continue his life with him.
script, direction: Andrea Rossini

in collaboration with: Giorgio Comai

narration: Nada Malanima

original music: Massimo Zamboni

production: Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso; Kineofilm
(BAD OMENS: APRIL 30th – MAY 1st 1938)

"Everything, the entire world was poetry."


        Varlam Shalamov, The Kolyma Tales

Exterior night. A boat on the Black Sea, not far from the shore. Waves rolling. Details of the boat, the shore, and finally the sea.
That night I dreamt of icons. It was a bad omen. I woke up crying and I woke Osip up too. “Don't be scared”, he said. “The worst is behind us”. And we fell back asleep. But I had never dreamt of icons before that night.
Fade to black. Interior day funeral in Sukhumi. Noise of an Orthodox church's door being opened wide for a funeral. Images of icons, incense, the pope, and the faithful. Details of icons and faces. The coffin at the centre of the church. Nadezhda's voice is interrupted by the sounds of the environment (steps, litanies).
They woke us up early – someone lightly knocked at the door. Osip went to open. There were three of them: two soldiers and the director.

Exterior day. People exit the church. Light, people leaving. Cars, daily life.
We had met in May 1919, Osip and I. We were driven apart in May 1938, when two soldiers took him away, pushing him outside our room. They interrupted us while we were trying to speak to each other and did not let us say goodbye.

Promenade in Sukhumi. Waves break on a relict as if trying to move it. Nadezhda's voice starting on the titles.

Nadezhda: At night I mumbled verses. There were fewer and fewer people willing to keep the manuscripts, so I recited Osip's poems by heart, so I would not forget them. This is how I continued living with him. There are very few photographs left – I preserved them with the same methods used for the manuscripts.

Picture of M (on the right) with Anna Akhmatova

Nadezhda: In this task I had a precious ally – Anna Akhmatova. I don't know about other countries, but in my country poetry has power. In my country they kill for a poem. Verses awake life, they awake conscience and thought. I don't know why it happens, but it happens. And if it does, if the verses I preserved can still be useful to someone, it means I didn't live in vain, it means I had a task and I fulfilled it.
Nadezhda Mandelstam
Anna Akhmatova
Exterior day. An elderly couple slowly walks away on the promenade.
Nadežda: They say the young are no longer interested in this, and that we have to think about the young. Instead, I believe that there are no limits. You have to talk, until there is nothing left to say, until every woman who has followed her husband in the concentration camp or has stayed home in silence, biting her tongue, has been remembered. I ask everyone to look at my 50-year nightmare, including over thirty years of complete solitude. You try. Then, maybe, you won't feel like killing any more.

Wrecked socialist buildings, once symbols of the Soviet power. Sukhumi's main square.
Enters [X], approaching the troupe.

[X]: Come, I'll show you where Osip and Nadezhda Mandelstam lived.
Transfer to the villa where the Ms stayed (PoV). Walk in the park.
[X]: M stayed in this villa with his wife Nadezhda, before continuing the journey to Armenia. For M, Armenia was a mythical place and he did anything to reach it. In the end he made it, with Bukharin's help. He was looking for the roots of Europe – at the slopes of Ararat, in Armenia, where the Greek and Judaic-Christian civilisations had met. He was a Russian Jew, probably the greatest Russian poet in the 20th century. But then he wrote that poem against Stalin, you know. They killed him, and destroyed his works. His wife Nadezhda, though, learnt the poems by heart. When the samizdat started to spread, after Khrushchev, they started circulating again. Among the poems saved there was Journey to Armenia, the journal of the journey that started here, in Sukhumi.