Director: Sergio Castellitto
Writer: Margaret Mazzantini (novel)
Release Date: 6 December 2013 (USA)
Last night I was eating dinner at my friend’s place when my sister pinged me saying she’s gonna watch “Twice Born”. After she finished the movie, she told me that I should probably watch it but warned me that it is intense so I might be sad.
Boston’s climate was confused whether it should rain or snow today – so it decided to shower both. I was curled up in my comforter, refusing to get up before 5 pm on a Saturday and that ‘sad’ keyword had attracted me to the movie like a bee towards a jar of honey (not sure, honey is artificial, wouldn’t it be more attracted to a flower with nectar, I give up!). I also checked imdb.com and I was surprised that it had 7.4 which is a pretty good rating. So I decided to watch it. Plus I love Penelope Cruz.
The description on imdb focussed on a mother bringing her teenage son to Sarajevo, where his father died in the Bosnian conflict years ago. But the movie was so much more. Throughout the movie, I kept thinking that I would love to read the book, just to understand the depth and complexity of the characters and the conflict in Bosnia that the movie could not reflect. I’m sure I would love the book even more than the movie, because, isn’t that always the case?
The movie starts with Gemma (Penelope Cruz) receiving an early-morning phone call from her old friend, Gojco (the boisterous Adnan Haskovic), urging her to return to Sarajevo. The work of an American photographer is the subject of an exhibition there. She agrees to visit with her son, to expose him to a different part of the world. Immediately, memories of this thrilling and tumultuous time come rushing back to her. The year is 1984, Gemma arrives in Sarajevo for her research for the Winter Olympics. Her guide is a poet Gojco who introduces her to a bunch of eclectic artists including the American photographer Diego (Emile Hirsch). Diego pursues her in a very reckless American way “Drop everything, and run away with me,” he purrs. They have only one night and then both are leaving for different parts of the world. Diego is leaving for Brazil to photograph children working in mines, whereas Gemma is going to Rome where she is getting married to her long time boyfriend.
Gemma’s marriage doesn’t last long and Diego comes back to meet her in Rome. “Every day will be a party with me, baby.” She resists the attentions of the younger man. Until she doesn’t. Both of them want a family, but after multiple miscarriages they get to know that Gemma is 97% sterile and due to the past drug abuse and police records for Diego, the police would not approve them for adoption.
Their struggle to have a child is tragically and beautifully portrayed in the movie. In one of the scenes, Gemma tells the psychologist that “I’m here because I am afraid. I am afraid of losing the man I love. I want to give him a child, to tie him to me.” I couldn’t help but wonder is this why most people have children. To tie another person to you, so that they remain in the relationship with you even if they do not want to. I have a friend I have known for a very long time. People who are not close to her know that she does not want children. But since we were close, I Know that it is not that she did not want children, she just didn’t want to have a child with a man who is not there to raise the child with her. She did not want to have an absentee father or someone beside her but not in love with her anymore, which is often true in an Indian society. What she really wanted was a man who wanted to create something together, to build a life together, a family together. In the movie, both Gemma and Diego want that family, however they falter.
As their inability to have children starts wrecking their marriage. war builds up in Bosnia. Gojco is part of a Sarajevo arts community where denial about the war runs deep. Lines of people fleeing the city when the shooting starts only earn a “they would never touch Sarajevo” from him and his friends, the silly dreamers. The war plays out on television, until the snipers show up in Sarajevo and the power is cut off and the city is under siege. Meanwhile, Gemma’s efforts to conceive play out against that bloody backdrop.
At one point, Gemma and Diego are on the verge of splitting, but instead they decide to travel to Bosnia, to go back to their old friends and past life. In Sarajevo, Gojco comes to know about their sterility issues and he gets creative with the idea of surrogacy. This brings us to the one of the films vibrant and intriguing characters, an outspoken Croatian musician named Aska (Saadet Aksoy). But like every other character in the movie, she gets saddled with some truly awkward dialogue, much of which revolves around her obsession with Kurt Cobain. (This is also an easy shorthand to inform us that it’s now 1992, the year the Bosnian War began.)
I do not want to give away any more of the plot or the climax in here. I give Penélope Cruz credit for her role of Gemma – she is tragic and earthy as ever. She is a wonderful actress. Gojco, has the best lines in the movie “Poetry is God when he feels nostalgic for man”, “For me the most beautiful word is ‘grazie’”. Emile Hirsch plays exuberant and callow well. Diego has a childish charm, a man-child vibe and reminds me of someone I fell in love with a long time ago, and which made watching this movie such a personal experience for me. I never understood, which is also a big flaw in the movie, how Diego moved away from Gemma or why. In fact, the two of them, Cruz and Hirsch, never really click in the movie, there is a serious lack of chemistry.
Irrespective of the flaws in storytelling, when the third act of the movie rolls in, the surprises start piling up. Events from long ago are shown through a more accurate lens in the backdrop of the war and in the context of love and motherhood. This is where “Twice Born” rises to something nobler and closer to heartbreaking.
The movie has really terrible reviews on Rotten Tomatoes which only goes to say that it’s not always the film critics opinion that counts. The movie hit me… hard. The mix of history, great performances, and an arresting plot, brought home the reality of what war means to civilians caught up in it. I didn’t enjoy the movie because it was hard to watch, but I loved sitting through the emotional journey that this movie was. If you have watched it, what did you think?