'Twice Born' review: Lost in translation

'Twice Born'

'Twice Born' (December 2, 2013)

*1/2 (out of four)

When setting a love story in a war-torn environment, it's nice to actually recognize the who, what and why of the conflict -- not just treat it like an inconvenience to personal happiness.

In the flashbacks of "Twice Born," lovely Italian Gemma (Penelope Cruz) meets lively American Diego (Emile Hirsch) in Bosnia. The attraction is instant. She thinks this 23-year-old photographer is too young for her; he'd be foolish to let her halfhearted doubts stop him, so he doesn't. Then suddenly he's returning from an undetermined period of absence and she's getting divorced, but the timing is perfect and for some reason Gemma's dad loves Diego. Huh?

Poorly adapted by director/co-writer Sergio Castellitto and co-writer Margaret Mazzantini from her novel "Venuto al mondo," "Twice Born" provides minimal detail regarding the Bosnian War. The focus remains on Diego, who really wants a child, and Gemma, who learns she's 97 percent sterile. Clearly, this puts a kink in Diego's promise that, "Every day will be a party with me, baby," in scenes that only find Hirsch succeeding only as an annoyingly peppy contrivance. Their adoption attempt inspires a bizarrely tearful rejection from a psychologist who claims that, despite Diego's suddenly disclosed and then forgotten criminal history, no couple could be more deserving. Once a surrogate named Aska (Saadet Aksoy) gets involved, the story piles on sudden emotional swings and plot twists where there should have been an honest examination of a fantasy relationship weighed down by reality.

Cruz holds the melodrama in check, but far too much action of consequence happens off-screen. Meanwhile, what's onscreen frequently becomes irritating, from their pal Gojco's (Adnan Haskovic) tendency to speak in poetry to randomly placed scenes of present-day, believably-aged Gemma bringing her son Pietro (Pietro Castellitto) to Sarajevo, where he was born.

The filmmakers hope viewers will delight in wondering about the identity of Pietro's parents. I just wondered why we should care that Aska likes Nirvana (which is emphasized repeatedly) or believe Diego's claim that the weirdest love stories are the best. Like too much of the interminable "Twice Born," this refers to facts not in evidence.

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mpais@tribune.com

 

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