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"I don't mind doing it, but does the butler have to watch?"

Facing Windows
(NR, 106 min.)

Thursday, September 16, 2004
Copyright © Las Vegas Mercury

Facing Windows

Hearts of glass: The lessons of Facing Windows are sometimes too transparent

By Anthony Del Valle

The Italian film Facing Windows (La Finestra Di Fronte) gives off a lot of pleasure: in the performances, the texture, the moment-by-moment changes in emotional temperature. It's not until the movie's over that you may find yourself uncomfortable by the script's simplicity.

Director Ferzan Ozpetek (who co-wrote the screenplay with Gianni Romoli) gives us a curious opening. Davide, a young baker's apprentice (Massimo Poggio) in 1943 Rome, is seen close up drenched in sweat, frightened about some pending event. An older, muscular baker suddenly appears, and goes about his work. He stops for a moment and smirks at the apprentice; there's something unmistakably sexual about the look. When the baker goes back to his tasks, Davide suddenly begins to run out of the shop. The baker catches him, a violent fight ensues and the older man is killed.

We flash forward to a domestic drama 60 years later. Giovanna (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) is a young mother of two who seems fairly content, but not particularly happy, with her unambitious hubby Filippo (Filippo Nigro). She's taken to fantasizing about the good-looking bachelor she spies in the apartment window across from hers. Her life is forever changed when she and Filippo meet by chance a well-dressed, articulate elderly man (Massimo Girotti) wandering the streets who can't remember who he is. The man in the window--Lorenzo (Rauol Bova, who played the Italian in Alien Vs. Predator)--becomes involved in Giovanna's search for the man's identity, and winds up falling in love with his neighbor. By the time the film is over, of course, we learn who this mysterious man is, what his relationship is to the first scene of the movie, and how all these seemingly unrelated events come to be connected.

What makes the film ultimately unsatisfying is that it has a big moral on its mind, and the last 15 minutes or so is pure dreck. Everything is spelled out in a patronizing way (a character has a speech in which he explains how all people should behave). Much of the stranger's character is rooted in events of World War II, and it's clear now after 60 years that if artists want to continue to make movies about the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps, it's time they came up with something new to say about them.

But luckily, Facing Window's final destination is not the highlight of its journey. The movie's strength is in its depiction of a marriage that is strong but threatened. Mezzogiorno and Nigro have a wonderful rapport. You can feel their relationship's healthy intimacy. Nigro also manages to suggest a boy's irresponsibility, so that we can understand why the wife might feel suffocated by his lack of drive. There's an unforgettable moment when Giovanna looks at her own window from the apartment of a potential lover, and sees her husband and children going about their daily life. She imagines herself there with them. It's Hitchcock's Rear Window, but kinkier; the character is spying on herself.

The film's great performance belongs to Girotti, who died last year at age 84 after a career that led from Rossellini and DeSica to Betollucci. Girotti makes his troubled character an elegant man with horrific events in his eyes. When he snaps out of it, you can feel the peace (well, somewhat) in his soul. He has the sort of authority that makes every blink of the eye feel revelatory.

The real problem with Facing Windows may simply be that director Ozpetek doesn't have enough confidence in how easily he can make his points. He hits us over the head when his talent makes gentle nudging more than enough to lead us where he wants us to go.

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