MRR Review: "Twice Born"

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A single mother brings her teenage son to Sarajevo, where his father died in the Bosnian conflict years ago.
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MRR Review: "Twice Born"

Rating: R
Length: 127 minutes
Release Date: Dec. 6, 2013
Directed by: Sergio Castellitto
Genre: Drama, Romance, War

No two mothers are exactly alike, and that simple phrase sets up the premise for the film "Twice Born." Set during the war in Bosnia, the film follows Gemma (Penelope Cruz, "Vanilla Sky"). As an Italian woman living in the war-torn country, she finds herself facing obstacles at every corner, and she finds herself handling those obstacles on her own after her son's father Diego (Emile Hirsch, "Into the Wild") dies. After giving birth, she escapes the battles and races back to Rome with her son Pietro.

Sixteen years after moving back to Italy, Gemma learns that a former friend helped create a gallery show to display her former love's greatest photographs. Knowing that her son needs to know more about his father, she makes the decision to take him with her to Sarajevo to see his father's pictures. As the film unfolds, it offers viewers a better look at the relationship that Diego and Gemma shared through various flashbacks.

"Twice Born" is an intense and often dark film. Some viewers might find the early scenes jarring, especially as the film jumps around from the present day to the past. It isn't until much later in the film that viewers will learn why one chance meeting with an old friend made Gemma so unhappy and why that one meeting had such an impact on her life. The flashbacks, which seem to come a little too late in the film, showcase the underlying romantic story that serves as the center of the film.

Gemma and Diego were a young couple in love, but they were also a couple unhappy at the idea of not having children. In the hopes of working with a top fertility specialist, they made the decision to visit Bosnia. Against the backdrop of the battles raging right outside their windows, they somehow fell even deeper in love, which eventually led to the creation of their son.

The director uses those battle scenes to show the darkness that surrounded the couple. Even if the film didn't make it clear that Diego died, viewers would know that the two didn't have a happy ending. Though those scenes are quite dark, those moments add an extra layer of depth to the film and recreate the struggles that Gemma faces. The early scenes replicate her struggles to become a mother, while the later scenes show that though she is now married and has a child, she still isn't happy.

Cruz is easily the standout of the film. As a woman dealing with the death of her first love all over again, she shines on the screen. It helps that she has amazing chemistry with Hirsch. Though the age difference between the two might seem distracting to some, it's easy to see how these two people fell in love and why she can't move on after his death. Though Hirsch is a little too comical in his first few scenes, he later grows into his role of a free-spirited artist. The film also benefits from the addition of Saadet Aksoy, who plays Aska. When Diego and Gemma learn that they cannot have children of their own, they hire Aska to carry their child. The last scene that Aksoy and Cruz share is one that no viewer will ever forget.

Based on the book of the same name, "Twice Born" doesn't suffer from the same problems that plagued other book-to-screen adaptations. Those who read the book will find their favorite characters represented, while those who never heard of the book will still find something that touches their hearts. The film often delves into the idea of what it means to be a mother and how motherhood affects different women in different ways. Is Gemma less of a mother because she didn't give birth to her child, or does she have the same thoughts and feelings about her son as any biological mother would?

"Twice Born" is the type of film that affects different people in different ways. While some might walk away praising Cruz for her performance as a woman who can't move on from her first love, others will connect to the story of motherhood. The film has a number of twists and turns that will keep some viewers entertained, and while those turns are often dramatic, few people will find the story hard to follow.

At the root of "Twice Born" is the story of a woman who finds that she can reinvent herself even after years of adversity. The chemistry between the two leads, the phenomenal story, and the combination of battle scenes and romance will keep any viewer interested.

Rating: 3 out of 5