In the Sergio Castellitto-directed Twice Born, watching for a well-composed shot amid handheld faux-immediacy, it’s possible to see a better story struggling to get out. Unfortunately, it’s usually not the one the movie’s telling.
Adapted from Margaret Mazzantini’s popular novel, Twice Born splits its time between the travels of Gemma (Penelope Cruz) to Sarajevo with her teenage son and her own youth spent there. Flashbacks chart a deeply unconvincing affair with Diego (Emile Hirsch), the sort folks are glad exists only onscreen, who uses manic posturing as artistic passion and ignores when women say no. Gemma’s obsession with giving him a child stands in for a character; those around her—poet Gojco, musician Aska—suggest a richer tale, though their scrabble for personality gets bogged down by a platitude-heavy script. (As Gojco, Adnan Haskovic does what he can but must lob some of the most leaden pearls of wisdom.)
The film’s focus on Gemma’s desires starts flat and slides into diminishing returns; an adoption agent weepingly explaining they’re denied despite their perfection borders on the absurd. Its case for love as an encompassing, volatile, healing force is throttled by a lack of conviction about its subjects, while the film’s use of war-torn Sarajevo as metaphor for the relationship and site of dramatic set pieces tips from calculated to the outright manipulative more than once.
A few moments in Twice Born’s final act are powerful and contemplative, but none belong to Gemma. That’s a fitting microcosm of a film that seems to run out of reasons to follow its leads long before it runs out of footage.