A mother brings her teenage son to Sarajevo, where his father died in the Bosnian conflict years ago.A mother brings her teenage son to Sarajevo, where his father died in the Bosnian conflict years ago.A mother brings her teenage son to Sarajevo, where his father died in the Bosnian conflict years ago.
The original Italian title, "Venuto al mondo," translates as "Come to the World," and I think it's a better title. Because this is an intense, emotional journey of several characters each trying to find a reality, a world, that is livable. Set in and around wartime Sarajevo, the large cast of characters interweave in creative ways to make a powerful if clichéd story that has significance for how we see ourselves in the worst of crises.
It isn't always an easy ride. The direction, by the Italian actor Sergio Castellito, is pushy, as if he knew the story was big and he made it bigger. Actors overplay some of their moments, editing is forced to pump up the adrenaline. And the plot is pushed to an extreme as well—love, , conception, war, rape, mistaken fatherhood, duplicity, and rebellion. It's all here, and if it's what makes this movie worth watching, the screenwriter, Castellito again, is trying too hard.
Luckily the momentum of the events is compelling. And the setting, in the mountain laced capital of Bosnia and the dramatic coast, is interesting at every turn. The acting, too, is engaging even if overwrought. The leading man at first is an American who is a kind of idealist and optimist (and who is derisively called Jesus Christ at one point, which is about right, as his last scene will confirm). Played by Emile Hirsch with unbridled enthusiasm, we have to believe him. There is no other side to his character, and the endless earnest cheer is necessary in the rough surroundings.
More dour is the woman, an expatriate Italian played by Penelope Cruz. That they hit it off is not unlikely, and the odd, intense nature of their relationship makes up the first half of the movie. We see the bohemian artist set of the city, we pay a visit to her father in Rome, they consider children in different ways. The strain grows, but the relationship doesn't crack.
Until a combination of infertility and war intercede at the same time. Here the plot approaches the incredible, even though the ravages of war, and the famous rapes of that particular war (this is the 1990s), are well known. The human spirit persists in differing ways in the cast, which grows slightly, and the plot becomes both more fragmented and more fascinating. It all crashes and burns and yet there is beauty and resolution, too, by the end, and something satisfying in all the sacrifice and compromise.
It's not helpful, I'm sure, to say this is the kind of material that might have made a classic masterpiece of a movie, but that's what sustains this one —the best of it is really terrific. It's hobbled mostly by the inexperience (or just the artistic limitations) of Castellito, who had such a huge role in the feel and scope of things the great cast wasn't enough to compensate. And to note, the novel this was based on was written by the director's wife, the son in the movie is played by his son (from what I can tell), and the director himself plays one of the secondary characters. Quite the family affair.
See it? Yes, if this sounds at all compelling. It's in some large category of romanticized love-war epic with "The English Patient" or "Gone with the Wind" or the troubled "Atonement," but at a very different level of success.
- Jun 4, 2014