Monday, July 14, 2014

Streaming tips for the tragic view: try the underseen TWICE BORN and TWO LIVES -- all about parenting and parentage, secrets and lies

These two foreign films, both very much worth seeing and pondering, tackle questions that go to the heart of relationships between parents and children, husbands and wives. Granted, neither film features your everyday problem -- TWO LIVES involves a woman who spied for the East German secret police (the Stassi), while TWICE BORN tracks the history of a single child, born from the rubble and disgust of one of our more horrific modern genocides, the Serbo-Croatian war -- but both movies force us to confront terrible situations and work our way through them.

Twice Born is the glossier of the two, as is usual with the films of Italian actor/director Sergio Castellitto.(Don't Move, Love & Slaps) Adapted by Castellitto and his wife Margaret Mazzantini, from her original novel, the film stars Penelope Cruz (below, left) and a mis-cast Emile Hirsch (below, right) as lovers unable to conceive a child who also become involved in the war in the former Yugoslavia, where they are part of the "arts" community that refuses to believe that said war will ever happen. Castellitto's movie moves back in forth in time and place, from Italy to America to Yugoslavia.

In doing so it never quite finds its focus, so that we trail along thanks to the performers and the gloss and the beauty of some of the actors in display. It's not a difficult watch at all, though it is also never spellbinding -- not, at least, until the final half hour, in which the parentage of the Cruz character's son (played as a young man by Castellitto and Mazzantini's son's Pietro Castellitto, below) comes to the fore.

Suddenly this movie pulls us up short, and from then until its conclusion, we're watching prime and primal stuff. The idea that truth should and will come to the fore is severely tested here. You may find yourself admitting, against everything you've formerly believed, that there is indeed a place in our lives for secrets and lies, where protecting our children is concerned.

Two Lives, another film that divided critics and barely saw the light of theatrical release, tackles parenting and parentage from quite a different angle. Here, a middle-aged German woman, happily married with husband and daughter and living in Norway, finds herself suddenly thrust back to a time when she worked actively with and for the East German Stassi secret police. Since the fall of the Berlin wall and the dissolution of the USSR, much of her former life has conveniently disappeared. Co-directed (and very well) by Georg Maas and Judith Kaulmann, who also had their hands in the screenplay,

Now suddenly, it could all come back to destroy what she's carefully built up. This woman, played very well by Juliane Köhler (near left), has quite the checkered history, yet she's proven herself a decent wife and mother, and so we root for her to somehow transcend the past. But the more we slowly learn of that past, the more difficult this transcendence seems. How all this plays out is suspenseful, unsettling and very real.

In the excellent cast are Sven Nordin (far left) as the uncomprehending husband, and Liv Ullman (below, second from left) as a very badly-used mother. What comes through most strongly in this film is how we must finally pay for the past, one way or another.

You can stream both film now via Netflix (and probably elslewhere), as well as viewing them on DVD.

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