This is Not a Movie Review: Venuto Al Mondo (Twice Born)

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probably I’m never going to meet a bunch of interesting strangers, fall in love impulsively and dance in the snow to rock n roll and classic American music

Director: Sergio Castellitto

Writer: Margaret Mazzantini (novel)

Starring: Penélope Cruz, Emile Hirsch, Adnan Haskovic

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?

Sreeja

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A small boy and his little dog

There is a funny story with this snap. I was in Lisbon, Portugal and it was our first day there. My partner was getting day bus passes from a convenience store (incidentally, the store owners were Indian) and I was waiting outside for him. The father of the little boy was also getting something from there and this little guy was outside, just like me, playing with his little Yorkie. I, of people, can appreciate having pets since childhood and it was undoubtedly the cutest sight. I wanted to capture him talking with his dog, the dog sometimes responding and sometimes not, they both getting tangled in the red leash. It was so amusing. I started filming them with my iPhone. Only when it was time for me to leave and I wanted to stop the video, I figured that I had not started it in the first place. Since I have a memory ‘like a sieve’, I am obsessed with capturing moments so that I do not forget them (I think that is one of the primary reasons I’m obsessed with photography). So before leaving I took this snap. This experience is one of the highlights of my Europe trip, equivalent to Wordsworth’s daffodils to me. What a bonus that the pup is looking at me!

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little boy and his little dog

Pink Flowers

Since my photography posts are becoming so popular and getting so many likes I decided to post another one. The UNL campus is bursting with flowers of every color from every corner. This year has been the most pleasant summer in Lincoln since 2011. I’m enjoying every moment of my last few weeks here.

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sidewalks bursting with blossoms

The gorgeous skies of Lincoln, NE

We had a few thunderstorms last month and the skies were always gorgeous, pregnant with dense clouds, sometimes just before or after a shower. All the photos are taken at dawn around 5:00am on different days.

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crossing the road near Beadle Center

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beautiful clouds taken from near the Assurity Center

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the parking lot between Morrill Hall and UNL CREC

Check my previous post on Lincoln skies here.

A Host of Wild Flowers (2)

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Wild Flowers, UNL City Campus

Last year I had posted a snap of the same flowers on my blog and, guess what, while giving a title to this post I independently came up with the same name! Check out the one from last year here.

Life after a stolen camera and a shattered iPhone screen

In Summer 2013, I went back to visit India after almost two years of being here in the USA. I took a five week long break. I have a friend in Zurich, so my plan was to visit Europe for around two weeks and then visit Kolkata. I started from Lincoln on 3 May 2013, spent twelve days in four different cities in Europe, reached India and spent three beautiful weeks there and finally it was time for me to come back to Lincoln. This post is not about what happened during the trip (many friends wanted me to write about that, and may be I will eventually) but about what happened when I was coming back.

I didn’t have much money when I was buying the tickets. Additionally, I was going to Europe and I wanted to save up for that. So I searched on kayak.com for several days and then booked the cheapest flight I could find in a few weeks time. I did not pay any attention to the ticket details except for the airports and ended up making a big folly – I had not paid any attention to the layover times at the different airports which, while travelling,  I learnt , in the hard way, is one of the most important things to do when buying long distance flight tickets. For starters I had five hour, eight hour and twelve hour long layovers in Mumbai, Frankfurt and Chicago respectively while coming back. Can it get any worse? When I was going through these layovers I was ready to pay twice of what I had originally paid for the ticket just to cut my journey short by a few hours. sigh!

The twelve days that I had spent in Europe I was carrying two backpacks on me – one on the front and one on the back. So I thought I had more than sufficient experience in carrying luggage around. But I was not! I was coming back from India with bags heavier than the ones I had carried into the country (so much shopping! so many gifts both from and for people!). And clearly the journey ahead scared me and I did not have much to look forward to this time except meeting Montu after such a long time. But even that would take more that forty plus hours. I was fatigued even before the journey actually begun, this led to me being subconsciously careless.

I was allowed only one check in luggage in the domestic flight from Kolkata to Mumbai. So I had a big trolley bag and a huge backpack on me. However when I came to the international airport in Mumbai I was informed that I could have two check in bags for the international flight. Looking at the very long journey ahead I decided on the spur-of-the-moment to deposit both my bags into the check in. I just had a sling bag on me now with my passport, flight tickets, phone and a chapstick and was feeling super light and free. However, not even half an hour had passed since depositing the bags, I realized that My luggage was through till Chicago O’Hare and I was clueless how I would spend the long eight hours in Frankfurt without having either a book, a computer or a camera with me. So I requested the ground crew for Lufthansa to bring back my backpack so I could take out some essentials and keep them with me.

I had to wait for a long time but eventually they brought out my bags and happily I took out my laptop and a book to read. I had a spare small backpack in my luggage so I took that out and put my things in it. I stopped and thought for a moment if I should also have my camera with me but I had my phone with me and since I would be staying mostly within the airports there was no point in carrying another lens around with me. In retrospect I think that was a bad decision.

I think this is the right place to mention the background of the camera and the book. Both were very special and strangely, both of them were gifts. The book was ‘Bibhutibhushan Rachanasamagra’ written by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay, a very renowned Bengali novelist. It was gifted to me by my cousin, Riya, on my birthday in the year 1995. And it contained one of my most favorite novels of all times – ‘Chander Pahar‘ (Mountain of the Moon), a novel which had instilled in me the desire to travel around the world at a very early age.  It was an important book which I had found at home after searching the book shelves for it for a long time. I wanted to bring it back with me and add it to my book collection here in the states.

The camera on the other hand was given to me by my dearest friend SR at a very crucial time – in 2011 when I had just come here. He, being my closest friend, knew the thing I would need most in a new city, in a new country, where I hardly knew anyone. And frankly without that green camera with me this blog wouldn’t have survived this long. More than the camera I valued the beautiful gesture. And I think if you have been reading for this long then you know that this post is about how I lost both while coming back!

The five hours at the Mumbai airport were uneventful. It was for the first time I was at the departure facilities of the Mumbai international airport and it was pretty good in the sense that there were lots of entertainment options – lots of restaurants, lots of spas, lots of fancy shopping places. But I was utterly disappointed with the internet and phone services there. I needed a calling card for my phone as my domestic service provider did not seem to work in that region and none of the stores seem to have any. Finally I had to pay extra  to get one.

After the long wait I found out that I had a window seat in the flight to Frankfurt and there were two elderly couple sitting beside me who were not at all interested in any kind of small talk. But it was night and I didn’t mind that much. I started watching The Guilt Trip on the flight and fell asleep before I completed it.

I woke up early as I remembered from the time when I was first flying to the States that I absolutely loved looking down below at the European countryside when the plane was flying above it. It’s like one of the scenes from a fairy tale book. We reached the Frankfurt airport early in the morning. The rest of the eight hour long layover was spent visiting the gifts shops and scanning the perfume section of the duty free shops in the airport looking for a new signature perfume. I liked many but couldn’t decide on one. But that’s a different story all together.

But the thing I enjoyed most doing was – reading ‘Chander Pahar’ again! I almost relived my entire childhood in the pages of that novel. The novel had thirteen chapters and I was on the verge of completing the twelfth chapter when the flight to Chicago was announced. I was tired after a long day and needed to take a nap. But I also wanted to read the last chapter of the book before I reached Chicago. So I put everything on the overhead luggage space, except my book. I put it in the pocket right before me where the manuals with safety instructions etc. are kept. After an uneventful flight when I finally unboarded the plane I forgot to bring the book down with me.

I went through the entire immigration procedure and baggage claim before I remembered that I had forgotten to bring the book with me. As soon as I remembered I contact the ground crew of Lufthansa and told them my seat number and where I had lost the book. At that time I thought they were helpful as they called the cleaning crew and asked about the book and stuff. But they told me they could not find it. And they totally refused to give me a complaint number or reference number for my lost book. They just gave me a number for Lufthansa Lost & Found which I have called several times since then but no one has ever picked up.

I was too morose about the loss of my book and I totally resented how I remembered it exactly 20 minutes after coming out of the plane and not 20 seconds before leaving it. I decided that it was just wrong to want to bring the book all the way here, specially when the book itself was so precious. And I blamed myself and sulked uncontrollably. I was so lost about losing the book that it did not cross my mind to check the backpack which was checked in with the flight without any locks on it.

From Chicago I had to take a bus ride to come to Omaha and then an acquaintance was picking me up and we were driving to Lincoln. This in all took another twenty four hours. I was tired after the very long journey and at the same time ecstatic to meet Montu after five weeks (a major part of which I had spent worrying about her well-being). She was healthy and happy to meet me and I was happy to just be at home and sleep, sleep and sleep…

So when after 3 days of not doing anything I started to unpack, I could not find my camera anywhere. I searched each and every of my baggage, tossed every piece of clothing, ransacked my entire room frantically. But I could not find it anywhere. Then I started tracing every move since I started packing my bags and where I put my cam till I came to Lincoln. And there was never a point when I had interacted with the camera after I had safely tucked it in inside one of the side pockets of my backpack. I asked if I had left it at home and my parents searched everywhere and couldn’t find it. And till I came to Mumbai I had the backpack with me. So I lost it sometime on the transit between Mumbai to Chicago. I was pretty much wide awake all the way from Chicago to Lincoln and there’s no way someone could have stolen it from me.

After I learnt about my losses I tried futilely to reach the Lost & Found number that the ground crew at Lufthansa counter in the Chicago airport had given to me. But two days passed and no one picked up the call. So finally I decided to write an email to the Lufthansa people. I received a prompt reply informing me it was already seven days and according to their policy they couldn’t do anything about it. It was the eighth day! I hated my life!!

I wanted a camera badly, but decided this time I won’t settle for a point and shoot one. Instead I wanted to buy one of those Canon SLRs I had always dreamed about owning.  I researched a lot  and found out that I could only afford something like a Canon Rebel T3. Though it is a good camera according to all the reviews, I have used it before and did not like the controls quite as much. So I decided I’ll save up for something I really want and not buy something just out of need and affordability. So I decided I will wait for around three months and save enough and in the mean time use my iPhone profusely to take photos (lately, I had been using that a lot).

However, another bad thing happened soon. I went shopping at a local mall and was waiting for someone to pick me up from there. It was the third of July and I was standing in the parking lot. There were lots of fireworks in the sky and I was ecstatic. I decided this moment and my feelings need to be captured, and I started recording a voice memo! Just as I had finished recording it, a passerby collided with me and my iPhone shot forward face down on the concrete. I had dropped my iPhone like a million times before and nothing had ever happened to it. So I was not really worried when it fell down. But I was devastated when I picked it up. Here, have a look!

The screen had shattered into pieces and glass was falling off it. I was so taken aback that I did not what to tell the person. I just stood there smiling foolishly. I was leaving on a trip to St. Louis, MO the next day and I did not know if I wanted to go there anymore (I did).  I contact Apple and they told me I did not have insurance on it and the warranty does not cover accidental damage. They would charge me a whopping $200 to get it fixed. I had got my phone on contract for $199 only. And I still had the contract for another year. I was in soup.

I searched on internet and decided to fix it myself. But it was a cumbersome process and I never knew which parts to order online. And I assumed it will be very time consuming. Also apart from the broken screen the iPhone was working perfectly normally. yes, there were bruises on my fingers from excessive texting and from the occasional doodling. Also there was a scratch right on the lens of the front camera so the front cam snaps were as bad as it could possibly get – there was always an over exposed corner or a white light streak on the snaps. So I kept procrastinating it – for almost 5 months – when it became clear to me that I was never going to do it.

I caved and found a place who would do it for much cheap (read $86) albeit using cheaper replacement parts. But I read about it online and heard that the performance would not be bad in any way and so I decided to give it a try. So finally after exactly 5 months 1 day on 4 December 2013 I got my cracked screen fixed. can you believe its the same day when I got my drivers license in the states (2 years 6 months and 7 days after I had landed here). Am I not the master procrastinator?!

I am yet to get the camera. I have not saved enough (I don’t know where my stipend goes! But I’m a graduate student, so mostly on rent and food and shopping 😛 ) And I have no clue when I am getting that (blame it on an addiction of travelling – I’m going to NYC on 23 Dec).

When I started this blog I really wanted to write and express myself. But when I write I don’t write fiction, nor non-fiction. I discovered I really liked to write about my experiences. And then there was a phase when I saw that people I knew where reading my blogs and that made me shy. I could not decide if I wanted people I know or meet in my regular life to read about my life in detail or not. So I went back to writing journals privately and this blog became more of a photography blog with a Point and Shoot camera (i.e., not good quality photos). In the time when I did not have my camera and my iPhone I was going through a very tough phase in my personal life. And I could not find so much inspiration to blog here, because I wanted to maintain a certain standard. So I was using my Instagram profusely. And lets face it , instagram is so – instant!

But during this phase I found out that writing is so therapeutic for me. For one if I’m not writing I’m not really thinking clearly about the things happening in my life. Instead I was picking up and instant and brooding about that. And that was so counter-intuitive. As a result I was doing things that I would not have done if I had thought about it clearly. Also I really felt the need to talk to people and I did. But then how many times can you repetitively nag about something to the same people. So writing was the best option. I wrote journals and I wrote a lot on paper with a pen/pencil,  doodled a lot. But I felt that I also wanted to share my thoughts. And I decided to blog about my feelings. I was unsure if I wanted to publish here or start a new blog and after a lot of thought decide that lets justify this blogs name!

So you might see a lot of stuff on this blog that you haven’t seen here before. A lot of articles on things that may seem very personal to you. But as I had already claimed when I started this blog, I am going to be undauntedly unapologetic about them. It’s my blog and I will express what I want to. I never intended this to be a very popular blog with millions of reader, nor did I start it with the hope of winning accolades from everyone. And I’ve to admit that I’ve been super irregular here. So I want to wish a very heartfelt thank you to every old subscriber who comes back to read this blog, every new reader who comes here, everyone who subscribes to my blog and everyone who has stuck with me and read this super long and misleading blog. Thank you so much and love you. 🙂

Explanations:

  1. For those who don’t know, Montu is my pet Golden Syrian hamster.
  2. Kolkata or Calcutta is a big metropolitan city on the east of India. It is my hometown, where I was born and brought up.