December 6, 2013 at 1:00 am

Tom Long

Review: Things feel a bit off in international romance 'Twice Born'

Penélope Cruz and Emile Hirsch play an Italian and American who meet at the Sarajevo Olympics and become lovers in the drama 'Twice Born.' (eOne)

‘Twice Born” is one odd movie, from the casting of its leads to its backdrop to its final twist.

All the oddness isn’t necessarily wrong. There are parts of this story, directed by Sergio Castellitto and based on a novel by his wife, Margaret Mazzantini, that are both moving and surprising, while others seem both overwrought and random.

The film revolves around a love affair between Gemma (Penélope Cruz) and Diego (Emile Hirsch), an Italian and an American who meet at the Sarajevo Olympics before that part of the world is pummeled by war. Diego is a 23-year-old photographer who instantly falls in love with the vaguely older Gemma. In real-life Hirsch, who looks nothing like a Diego, is 28 and the Spanish Cruz is 39. Yes there’s a thing called acting, but the leap here is a bit much.

After stalking/romancing the reluctant Gemma, the freewheeling Diego finally wins her over. But then it turns out they can’t conceive — something’s wrong with Gemma. To fix this problem, which Gemma is obsessed with, they return to Sarajevo just as all heck is about to break out (what better place to conceive a child?). They find a (no kidding) trumpet-playing grunge musician (Saddet Aksoy) to serve as a surrogate and endure all the bombings and shooting until she delivers the baby.

Gemma runs to the airport with her new son; but oops, Diego forgot his passport, so he stays behind and dies.

This isn’t giving anything away because the story unfolds from the future, where Gemma has brought her teen son to see an exhibit of Diego’s photos. And in the here and now, secrets are revealed. And they, too, seem both odd and overdone. Like the film itself.

'Twice Born'

GRADE: C

Rated R for violence including rape, sexuality/nudity, strong language and drug content

Running time: 127 minutes

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