Italian actor-director Sergio Castellitto’s new romantic drama Twice Born, an adaptation of the bestselling novel Venuto nel Mondo by author Margaret Mazzantini, opens today in select U.S. cities courtesy of Entertainment One.
Starring Penelope Cruz and Emile Hirsch, the film is set in Sarajevo and Italy, spanning the years between the Bosnian War and the present day. Part tragic love story, part paternity mystery, the narrative revolves around the couple’s inability to conceive and subsequent use of a surrogate mother, whose entry into their lives brings jealousy and regret.
Here are four quick questions we asked Castellitto: about the adaptation (Mazzantini, the author of the novel, is his wife), directing as an actor, and trends in contemporary Italian cinema.
Kelly Leow, MovieMaker Magazine (MM): Talk about the process of adapting your wife’s novel to the screen. Was it a simple transition or did you struggle with certain aspects?
Sergio Castellitto (SC): I have always followed Margaret’s writing process. My collaboration with her began during the very first drafts of her books, when I gave her editing suggestions. It happened with Don’t Move and it happened again with Twice Born. Unconsciously, I start thinking about the movie after the first readings, when I begin to uncover the images that are concealed behind the words she writes. That’s a very thrilling process. As a matter of fact, though, Margaret and I are not just two artists working together. We share a family, children and a great love. But despite all that, sometimes we still argue.
MM: The film stars Penelope Cruz and Emile Hirsch, something of an unlikely pair. How did you cast them? How would you describe your style for directing actors, as an actor yourself?
SC: Penelope and I share the wonderful experience of making Don’t Move. Meeting her again was so exciting. Penelope agreed to play a complex character [the film’s protagonist, Gemma], full of light and shadow and weakness, both humble and ambitious. I first discovered Emile Hirsch watching Into the Wild and I was just struck by this young man, full of passion, intensity and melancholy. Emile fell in love with the screenplay, and I fell in love with him.
I have always taken part as an actor in the movies I have directed. It’s great fun for me. Sometimes it is harder for me to stand still behind the camera and look at the others playing. Besides, performing as an actor in a movie that you direct allows you to have a deeper emotional control over the scene.
MM: What was particularly memorable about the production experience for you?
SC: When I first met the people from Sarajevo in Bosnia. That was one of the most moving memories I have of the whole experience. Sarajevo is known as the Jerusalem of Europe for being the crossroads of the three main monotheist religions, Judaism, Islam and Christianity. The city is full of culture, although it still bears the wounds of war. The sea in Croatia is wonderful. I always thought that I would set the finale of the movie in that sea.
MM: You’ve had a long career working in Italian film. How would you describe the contemporary Italian industry? How has it changed since you began working?
SC: Italian film is going through a severe industrial and cultural crisis. There are many young directors but it seems to me that they do not show any particular bravery. They all hasten to shoot comedies, mistakenly thinking that it’s the only way to recover from crisis. But I think this is erroneous.
I believe that an artist has to be optimistic without sacrificing depth. They have to continue working on internationally oriented projects. Twice Born was wonderfully welcomed in Italy. I hope that in the USA it will touch hearts as well–the desire to be touched by art resides in people all over the world. MM