By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
“Nicolas Garnier?” I ask.
She nods her head sheepishly.
“Does he still work here?” I inquire.
She shakes her head no.
“When was the last time you saw him?”
She looks pained by the question. There is a long, uncomfortable pause, and then she says in a hushed voice, “Nicolas, he is a lost soul.” The phrase hangs there in the air by itself. “I saw him a few weeks ago. He is addicted to opium and is homeless,” she whispers. “He is trying to get back to France. He is in bad shape.
“He will probably come by here to say goodbye,” she adds hopefully.
I give her my phone number, and ask her to call me if he stops by.
“Maybe I can help him,” I say.
I don’t know why, but it seems like the right thing to say.
“He needs help. Please help him,” Deborah says quietly. “He has run out of dreams.”
As I walk back up the hill to my place, the French home movies run through my mind. As do many questions. When did Nicolas actually become an addict? Did Hollywood do this to him? Is there a spot in the films where you can actually see him cross the invisible line into drug addiction? Some experts say that lack of love from the parents may be a cause of addiction. That could not be the case here. I have never seen a child more deeply loved by his family. At least on film.
When I get home, I realize there is one last DVD. I take a deep breath, stick in the disc and ...
EXT. PARIS BUILDING — SPRING 2007
We seem to be in the back courtyard of an old apartment building in Paris. A new French voice narrates: “The last moment of happiness. This is a beautiful courtyard,” he says, as Mr. and Mrs. Garnier emerge from the building. “Mom and Dad are going shopping with their little boy.” As dad takes the camera, we now see the narrator. He is a man in his early 40s wearing a baseball cap, jeans and a white high-necked pullover. This is Pasquel Garnier, the older brother of Nicolas. I have not seen him since the first DVD’s scene in Spain in the summer of 1978, when he was 12 years old. Here he is in Paris 30 years later. Pasquel goes to the mailbox in the entranceway of the large building. Sure enough, it reads: “Garnier #40.” He opens the box and removes a package. “It is from Nicolas,” he announces to his parents.
INT. PARIS APARTMENT — NIGHT
Pasquel takes us inside the sprawling, rundown apartment where he and his brother were raised. This is where we started our journey, some 35 years (and eight hours) ago. This same apartment was home to the Christmas dinner of 1973. It was here that Nicolas opened his first Christmas gifts. Here, where he learned to walk.
At the dining-room table, Mom breaks a long loaf of bread, while piano jazz plays in the background. Dad enters the scene and places a bottle of sparkling water on the table. He seems self-conscious, and immediately exits stage left. The apartment, furnished in dark mahogany and faded flowery wallpaper, bathed in a dim yellow light, looks like something out of an old World War II movie. Pasquel lovingly describes the apartment to his brother. One bedroom is filled with scores of stuffed animals.
Mrs. Garnier lifts a bedsheet to reveal a full drum set, apparently belonging to Nicolas. “We were here 40 years,” Mom gestures, “we’re gonna have to move all this.”
It is clear that this video is being made for Nicolas’ sake, to say goodbye to the apartment and neighborhood where he was raised.
INT. GARNIER APARTMENT
Boxes are everywhere. Suitcases are packed. These people are clearly leaving, and not for a vacation. This trip looks permanent.
EXT. FRENCH COUNTRY HOUSE
Pasquel continues to talk to his brother through the camera. Mrs. Garnier opens a metal shed in a rural back yard. She shows Pasquel a bobble-head doll with a photo of Nicolas slid into the face. “I got this at the 99 Cents Only store,” she says. It’s the same doll I saw at the 99 Cents Only store before this whole story started.
INT. COUNTRY HOUSE
Pasquel shows Nicolas his collection of figurines. There is the entire French national soccer team in miniature. One by one, each player is named: Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry, Fabien Barthez. There are dozens of miniature figurines from the Lucky Luke series and other French cartoons. There are Smurfs. There is a Serge Gainsbourg. A Louis Armstrong. In fact, this entire converted bedroom is filled with dolls and figurines. There’s a bust of Tintin. Dozens of stuffed animals of all sizes. Dolls and model cars sit in glass cases.
In the living room, we meet the mother of Mrs. Garnier. She is in her 80s now, white-haired, yet seemingly pretty tough. I look at the framed picture I have in my kitchen — it is of her, 40 years earlier. Too weird.
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