DVD review: Twice Born
Sergio Castellitto's film relies too heavily on final twist for us to care about the whole
Posted: September 11, 2013
Falling into you. Emile Hirsch's character Diego sweeps the Italian Gemma (Cruz) off her feet in pre-war Yugoslavia and has a devastating impact on her life.
Twice Born flashes between the past and the present at breakneck speed, as the pieces of the puzzle fall into place. But what at first seems like one kind of puzzle for the audience, because of a lack of information, turns into a puzzle reflected in a mirror shattered into a million pieces that the main character has to pull together to discover an ugly truth.
The film mainly takes place in Sarajevo before, during and after the civil war of the 1990s. This is a gorgeous setting for a film that has many tragic elements, but whether the viewer is willing to make the big leap with the film from one kind of story to another is not at all certain.
The ending is a big twist and not at all dissimilar from the coup de théâtre that left the audience of Denis Villeneuve's Incendies, another film set amid an ethnically charged community (that was in Lebanon), so pulverized. But Incendies had a twist that resulted in many terrible revelations down the line, snowballing, as it were, all the way to the end credits, picking up speed and smashing our expectations to pieces.
The problem with Twice Born is that one of the final moments that are disclosed is not linked to any particular point of view. It forms part of a story that is told by the one person who has access to such facts, but when the memory seems to contain another person doing something in secret, we change to an omnipresent perspective that is at odds with the rest of this pivotal flashback. In this way, we are cheated, and director Sergio Castellitto seems to be so hurried to deliver this narrative blow that he forgets how to cogently frame the moment.
Directed by Sergio Castellitto
With Penélope Cruz, Adnan Hasković, Emile Hirsch, Pietro Castellitto
Price: 299 Kč
Also available on Blu-Ray at 499 Kč.
Castellitto has a minor role in the film, and his son Pietro stars as Pietro, his adopted son. Such a casting move should never be taken on hastily or without good reason, and perhaps with this knowledge the director opted for a more low-key approach to the relationship, which works quite well considering the fragmented nature of the film's many interpersonal bonds.
Although at first he doesn't seem to have an important role, Pietro, the teenage boy with the piercing green-gray eyes, is in fact central to the story. His mother, Gemma (Penélope Cruz), receives a phone call from someone called Gojko at the beginning of the film. While she is Italian, she obviously has a significant connection to the city where Gojko can now be found: Sarajevo. Gemma takes her son along with her on a trip to the Bosnian capital, which she sees as a mixture of past and present upon her arrival, as we are transported to the early '80s, when she first met Gojko, and a few days later, the U.S. photographer Diego (Emile Hirsch).
Diego is a memory, and we only learn about him through Gemma's recollections, whipped up by her visit to a new exhibition of Diego's photographs organized by Gojko. Diego was a romantic who didn't care about not having much money, and he stole Gemma's heart. But despite his insistence on being happy, because he "can't stand being sad," the two face a serious challenge when they find out Gemma is 97% sterile. We learn this even though we are confronted with the images of Gemma and Pietro. Where he comes from is a question that haunts the first half of the film, and in the second half something unpredictable happens that casts a tragic glow over Gemma's entire life from this point on.
Unfortunately, as so often happens with Cruz in a role that requires her to speak English, the hysterical breakdown that accompanies this revelation is totally unbelievable and even annoying. However, both Cruz and Adnan Hasković, who plays Gojko, undergo impressive transformations over a time period of nearly 30 years, and the make-up artists should be given their due. Still, it's a shame Hasković's unsatisfactory command of English produces dialogue that sounds incredibly stilted.
The film doesn't deserve the 125-minute running time, and it is clear in the end that the director completely relies on his ending for the film to have the desired effect. As in Incendies, it may very well be memorable, but there is a great deal that could have been cut to make the story bounce along more smoothly. Silence and insufficient communication are some of the strongest themes in Twice Born, and we see the trouble and heartache that result from secrets kept over too long a time. While often deploying music so loud it unnecessarily and frustratingly drowns out the dialogue on the soundtrack, the film pounds us over the head with these themes and this slightly dulls the power of the revelations at the end, born out of exactly this kind of bad communication.
The local edition of the DVD, released by Magic Box, sadly contains no extras. The film is available in the original version (which does have a few lines of dialogue in Bosnian and in Italian, but is mostly in English) and with Czech dubbing. It also contains subtitles in Czech.
André Crous can be reached at