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'Twice Born' explores love, loyalty and motherhood in a time of war

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Director Sergio Castellitto's recently released "Twice Born" is an epic family mystery that becomes a moving portrait of love, loyalty and the unbreakable bonds of motherhood in a time of war.

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The film stars Academy Award® winner Penelope Cruz ("Vicky Cristina Barcelona") and Emile Hirsch ("Into The Wild"). It premiered at last year's Toronto International Film Festival.

Based on the European bestselling novel by Castellitto's wife Margaret Mazzantini, "Twice Born" begins with Italian professor Gemma (Cruz) heading off on a summer vacation to the battle-scarred city of Sarajevo with her discontented teenaged son Pietro. She longs to show him the country where she fell passionately in love with his father, Diego (Hirsch) – but she soon discovers a long-hidden secret that will reveal far more to their knotted past than even her haunted memories can disclose.

Castellito recently answered a few questions about the film.

In an interview with UK's The Guardian, Penelope Cruz called the film an "homage to all women, a homage to motherhood." What do you think of Penelope's assessment of the film? Was that your original intent while adapting your wife's novel?

I think Twice born is first of all an “homage to life”, it is as a matter of fact a story with ethical characteristics that slides into the frame of the great history of contemporary Europe, but it is mostly a great love story between two characters that fall in love with each other because they have a gap, a hole inside, as it often happens when we fall in love. There’s a sentence in the book that to me is extremely meaningful and that was my guide throughout the shootings “life is a hole that slides into another hole and, oddly enough, fills it up”. I believe that the film in its basic simplicity is willing to tell this story: if you slide your hand into a pit maybe you can find a light at the end.

What are your feelings about the film? Are you satisfied with the film's adaption of the original novel's story?

It was first of all a human adventure since everyone of us put something of their life in this work. This journey started when Margaret was expecting our son Pietro and felt the urgency of telling the essence of pregnancy across the oppression of war. And ten years later the book Twice Born came to light, a story that opposes an extraordinary love story to terror.

In the novel, Diego is an Italian photographer from Genoa who has a criminal past and heroin addiction. Why did you choose to change Diego's character into a young American photographer in the film version?

It was a strictly technical choice. We needed to align the language on the sets in Sarajevo and we chose to shoot in english.

What impact do you think changing Diego's cultural background had in the film version of the story?
I think it most of all had the effect of giving the movie a more international breath.

Tell us about the decision to cast your son Pietro in the film. How did having your own son play the role affect you while directing the film?
Our son Pietro was born in 1991, like the boy in the book. At that time me and Margaret had this gift among our hands, such a small life to take care of, and in the meanwhile we watched the news on tv with the horrible images of the war in former Jugoslavia. Having him in the cast was just natural and I’m glad to say that Pietro succeeded in amazing me, since he avoided to follow what I would ask him. This – I discovered later while editing – made me find out many more little things, a kind of present that usually expert actors give, and I was really positively struck by that.

American songs are used throughout the film including songs from Bruce Springsteen and Nirvana. Tell us about your choice of music for establishing the moods and emotional shifts in the film.

One of the scalpel that’s always been used in cinema is the melodrama. It’s a way to cut wounds and let sounds and lights bleed out. I used different kinds of music, from classical to pop/rock that fitted better to frame the historical era, though always trying to compose a balanced musical score of sounds, lights and words. As a matter of fact I think that the emotionally epic part has to be sustained also on the soundtrack level.

In an interview with Collider at the Toronto International Film Festival, you mentioned the first cut of the film was 4- 1/2 hours long. Were there sequences in the longer version that you would like to put back into film? How did the cuts affect the story?

For every director it is hard to give up even the smallest sequence of a creation of his/hers. That’s why in the past months I have been working hard to realize the editing of the integral version of Twice Born that is due to be on air soon in Italy in 5 episodes.

Were there story elements or characters that are in the novel which were left out of the film that you wish you could have included?

Every adaption process of a book into its cinematic version requires some sacrifices, the task of direction and screenplay is to keep the integrity of the book’s basic mission. Margaret was just fundamental in that as she co-worked with me in writing the screenplay. The two of us enjoy working together – even though we even argue - because it’s a process of continuous enhancement to get straight to the heart of people through the stories we tell.

Thanks to Sergio Castellitto, Margaret Mazzantini and Ana Pineda for this interview.

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