The 2004 collaboration between Sergio Castellitto, his wife, Margaret Mazzantini, and Penelope Cruz remains one of my favorite movies. Cruz’s role as Italian the prostitute in Non Ti Muovere (Don’t Move) is her finest performance. Based on Mazzantini’s best-selling book and also starring and directed by Castellitto, Non Ti Muovere set the bar pretty high.
This time around, watching Venuto al Mondo (Twice Born), based on Mazzantini’s book, directed by Castellitto and starring Penelope Cruz and Emile Hirsch made me feel like a parent watching her kids in a school play. You know how it is; your hopes are so high for them and you have trouble seeing anything wrong no matter how it goes awry.
Venuto al Mondo goes awry in ways I hadn’t anticipated. Penelope Cruz is great just like she always is, but she couldn’t tap dance fast enough to save this melodramatic mishmash. An American photographer, Diego, (Hirsch) meets Gemma (Cruz) an Italian doing research in Bosnia, and the friendships they make with the locals keep their ties to the country even when the bullets start flying in 1992.
Maybe it wouldn’t have been so confusing if they’d cast an Italian in Hirsch’s part, as was the character in the book; to be honest I’d rather it had been a Bosnian character. As it was, I was never quite convinced by the goofy American kid, so frenetically merry and utterly destroyed by the horrors of war. Even with all of the tragedy, and though he had every right to be distressed as all get out, I still couldn’t help wanting to slap him and tell him to stop being such a baby. It’s not fair, obviously, but Mr. and Mrs. Castellitto hadn’t managed to make me feel otherwise.
Twenty years later when Gemma takes her son back to see where he was born, Pietro (played by Castellitto’s son, Pietro) can’t help wondering how to care about a country he can’t identify with. And since he’s really never given a reason to, attempts to make him seem wiser for his travels fall flat.
It’s a tear-jerker and I found myself weeping, but in the way you cry when you know you’ve been manipulated into it. I don’t even know who I was crying for; maybe it was just Sarajevo.
I’ll bet the book was better.