We pass an assembly of faces, photographs on tombstones, until the cart stops at a clearing and the crowd gathers in a semicircle around the coffin. Somebody pries open the lid. There lie the waxlike remains of Vladimir, his face sculpted into an expression of eternal peace, artfully preserved like a dried flower. The music stops. There is no rehearsed service. One by one, mourners pay homage, while Sasha discreetly removes the leaves that float down onto her grandfather’s face.
Lena strokes her father’s beard, holds his hand, kisses his forehead and tells him she never realized how much he meant to her. A pair of gravediggers circles impatiently. After Lena withdraws, pallbearers return to put the coffin’s lid back over the corpse as the band plays Vladimir’s own arrangement of Moonlight Serenade — punctuated by the sound of nails being pounded into the coffin.
There are no mechanical elevators lowering the coffin into the grave, just two guys with belts and pulleys. Suddenly the coffin is vertical, and then it’s gone, just like that, while the crowd applauds Vladimir’s life.
The crowd disperses, and Lena kneels among the mountain of flowers that cover the grave, including the 40 white roses that she brought for her father. I try to lift her, gently, as she sobs. The sun slips behind a cloud. “I don’t want to leave him here,” she says.
At the post-funeral dinner, a producer approaches Lena about singing a song that her father arranged, for a concert next year devoted entirely to the work of Vladimir Starostin at Moscow’s Novaya Opera. The song is by Evgeny Minaev. Lena sang it years ago at the 30th-anniversary celebration of her father’s orchestra. The lyrics say something about how love never dies.