Returning to the war-torn city of Sarajevo that she’d first visited decades earlier as an Italian graduate student researching her thesis just before the 1984 Winter Olympics, we get to know Penelope Cruz’s now aged professor Gemma across two different spans of time as we follow her on a journey into her past and present that could forever affect her future in Twice Born.
Based on the explosive European best-seller by Margaret Mazzantini and co-produced by Cruz herself, director Sergio Castellitto’s labor-of-love adaptation spent two years battling its way into production, which resulted in a fast-moving fifteen week shoot in which the prolific Castellitto created the first cut of Twice (filmed on digital via Arri Alexa) that clocked in at four and a half hours.
Although he preferred the longer, more thorough telling of this ambitious epic of love and war which is augmented by its utterly mesmerizing cast, Born was cut down greatly for its American release, recently debuting on DVD at a 127 minute running time.
While long by traditional mainstream standards, it’s also a bit open-ended at times in its meandering second act. And because it forces the viewer to piece together the motivations of multiple players by relying on context clues to try and wrap up a number of loose ends that arise throughout the story that focuses on a rather large ensemble of free-thinking friends and lovers who form a makeshift family in the film, I for one would love to see the missing footage from the original cut.
Bringing everything together in a devastating yet moving final act that (despite a few convenient twists and one major contrivance) is so humanistic and uplifting that if it’s true to the novel it easily explains why the book was so popular. One of those unforgettable endings you’ll want to discuss afterward, you can imagine readers being left so stunned and mesmerized that they immediately pressed the book into the hands of another in order to do the same by talking about the turn of events that play out over more than two decades.
While I envy the Italians in the filmmaker’s home country that word is may get a chance to see the lengthier miniseries-like production that should appeal to the same viewers that championed another thematically similar Italian miniseries via 2003’s masterful The Best of Youth, this flawed yet fascinating mini-version of Castellitto’s opus is still much better than some American critics would have you believe.
While the chemistry between Cruz and her otherwise mindblowingly great romantic leading man Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild) is almost as uneven as the manic highs and – later during the height of the war – the shell-shocked lows of his onscreen American photographer alter-ego Diego who fits in everywhere and nowhere, they both have plenty of opportunities to shine.
Although it needs to be said that it would be a terrific change of pace for Hirsch to play a man who actually manages to live all the way up until the final credits roll (which is in no way a spoiler as his fate is revealed very early on), Hirsch fans won't want to miss yet another intense performance by the promising young actor.
Nonetheless, the film is easily stolen by its supporting cast. And this is best personified by Adnan Haskovic‘s potently charismatic performance as Gojco, the decades-long friend of Gemma who’s not only been in love with the Italian academic for years but also knows the truth about those she’s loved as a woman in the form of Diego and as a mother in the form of her son Pietro (Pietro Castellitto), whose introduction to the world happened in the midst of the horrific war.
While the haunting visuals from cinematographer Gianfilippo Corticelli definitely deserve a re-release in high definition Blu-ray complete with the longer Italian cut from editor Patrizio Marone, like Gemma on her journey to uncover both the past and present simultaneously, this edition of Twice Born offers us a great place to start our search.
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