This mini-epic war melodrama starts when all the action is over and middle-aged Gemma is having breakfast with her husband in their rather comfortable home in Italy when the phone rings. It’s an old friend who is inviting her to a special Photography Exhibit in Sarajevo. Not much is spoken between the couple after she puts the phone down, but when she says that she will take Pietro their 16 year old son with her, the anguished look on his face shows he is clearly not happy.
Neither is Pietro who would rather be hanging out with his friends at home than return to the country he left whilst still a baby. Why this journey is important enough for Gemma that she rides roughshod over both her husband and son’s wishes becomes clear in a series of flashbacks that take us back to the start of the story.
As a mature college student Gemma was in Sarajevo just before the 1984 Olympic Games and to help do research for her thesis she hired Gojko a local charismatic bohemian as a driver and guide. One of his hippy friends was a much younger American war- photographer who impossibly falls in love with her at first sight and then wears down all her objections with his relentless and overly enthusiastic pursuit. So much so that she eventually agrees to marry him which makes him abundantly happy. Well, that is until after a couple of miscarriages and they discover that Gemma is incapable of having a baby.
Talk of adoption for the child that Diego is a little too keen to have marks the start of him getting less ardent about what he had constantly being declaring was his undying love for Gemma up to now. And this is the point where the story lines start to get less clear, as we know that Gemma does become a ‘mother’ at the height of the war’s escalation, but it’s not until the final moments of the movie do we really learn how that happened.
Meanwhile back in the present Pietro constantly fights with his mother as he is bright enough to know that she has only given him the brief edited highlights of how he came to be born, and as such he carries a major resentment for both her and this country that he despises.
Helmed by Italian actor turned director Sergio Castelitto (who also plays Gemma’s husband) from a script based in his wife Margaret Mazzantini’s best selling novel. It is the presence of Penelope Cruz as Gemma that is responsible for making this so watchable even when the plot lines start losing their focus. She does as always with all her European movies really shine like an old-fashioned movie stars. Sad then that the usually reliable and talented actor Emile Hirsch was so badly miscast as the young Diego who was overly enthusiastic to the point of being almost annoying. And they had the most un-sensual naked lovemaking scenes that showed the total lack of chemistry between the two of them.
Beautifully shot, and the depiction of the tragedies of the war were a poignant reminder of that recent painful period in Sarajevo’s history.
If you are a fan of Ms Cruz then you still want to see this one (despite Mr Hirsch).
Available from Amazon