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FACING WINDOWS (La Finestra di Fronte)(director/writer: Ferzan Ozpetek; screenwriter: Gianni Romoli; cinematographer: Gianfilippo Corticelli; editor: Patrizio Marone; music: Andrea Guerra; cast: Giovanna Mezzogiorno (Giovanna), Massimo Girotti (Simone/Davide Veroli), Raoul Bova (Lorenzo), Filippo Nigro (Filippo), Serra Yilmaz (Eminè), Billo Thiernothian (Giambo), Maria Grazia Bon (Sara), Massimo Poggio (young Simone), Ivan Bacchi (Simone); Runtime: 106; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Gianni Romoli/Tilde Corsi; Sony Picture Classics; 2003-Italy/UK/Portugal/Turkey-in Italian with English subtitles)
“Its easily digestible lessons on life failed to stimulate my more hard-edged appetite.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Ferzan Ozpetek (“His Secret Life”/’Steam”) directs a sincere but in the end unfulfilling tragi/romance neorealism drama that finds the difference between dreams and actually making those dreams work a major obstacle for the main characters. The script is co-written by Ozpetek and Gianni Romoli. Massimo Girotti, the fine veteran actor for Luchino Visconti, Roberto Rossellini, and Vittorio De Sica, plays the mysterious old man with the wonderfully expressive face. The film is dedicated to him. Girotti passed away shortly after the film was shot. It’s a character driven narrative that spans the dark days of fascism during WW11 and the tenuous economic times in modern Rome, somehow linking something that happened sixty years ago with different events in the present. Learning how to live with passion envelopes all the many themes touched upon. The filmmaker weaves together a tale about a brokenhearted elderly man left with only memories of what could have been a wonderful life and an unhappy young woman stuck in her present unbearable situation. The film tastes rich like pastry, but the film’s frothy pleasures are only short-lived.

“Facing Windows” opens at a bakery shop in 1943 Rome late at night. An unidentified younger baker and an older one eye each other suspiciously, and when the younger one attempts to leave the older one scuffles with him knocking over a table filled with pastries. It becomes a fight to the finish, with the younger man so anxious to escape that he grabs a long sharp knife and stabs the older baker to death. He then quickly runs out of the shop and disappears into the dark street. This mystery scene will be cleared up during the course of the narrative, though it’s easy to guess who is the survivor as the narrative unfolds.

The next scene is in modern Rome, in the same location where sixty years earlier we witnessed that fatal fight. A young argumentative married couple, Giovanna (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) and Filippo (Filippo Nigro), are returning home from grocery shopping. They have two young children, but after nine years of marriage the love has floundered for the woman. The 29-year-old Giovanna works at a dead-end job as an accountant in a chicken factory, and as a hobby fulfills her real love by baking pastries for the local pub. Wifey is upset that hubby can’t keep a job and now works the night shift pumping gas, receiving a lower wage than she does. They live in a cramped apartment in a noisy low-level housing complex, and both feel rotten because they are always short on money. When Filippo spots an old man on the bridge who is disoriented, he feels sorry for him and offers to help. Giovanna is overwhelmed with her own problems and tells her soft-hearted hubby to let the police handle it. But Filippo feels sorry for the lost soul and he ends up taking the stranger home–which leads to further bickering between the two.

Once ensconced in the apartment, the well-dressed mystery elder man is pumped by the family for any hints to his past. He tells the children his name is Simone and a great part of the film is spent uncovering his past through little clues let out of the bag. Every time the film hits a dead spot it seems that’s the cue to learn something new about the old man.

Meanwhile Giovanna has romantic fantasies about a handsome young yuppie banker, striving to become a branch manager, Lorenzo (Raoul Bova), who lives in an adjacent apartment in the building complex. She long-fully stares at him from her kitchen window when taking a break from her family routines, but doesn’t realize that he’s also secretly staring at her through his living room window. Anyhow, that’s how the film got its less than thrilling title. The two eventually meet at the pub where she delivers her mediocre pies and he wolfs them down, knowing she’s the baker. When Lorenzo informs her that her grandfather has wandered off while waiting in her car, she fills him in about the stranger as the two walk the streets until they locate him by a street fountain.

Spotting a number tattoo on his arm, reveals that the wandering Jew must be a Holocaust survivor. This gets Giovanna interested enough in the harmless man to try and track him down in the Jewish ghetto. Later on she discovers from a love letter in his suit pocket that his real name is Davide Veroli and visits his residence. There she learns from his caretaker that he was once considered one of the greatest pastry chefs in Italy.

It’s further learned that Davide’s a gay man who lost the clandestine love of his life, Simone, that tragic night in 1943. Simone was taken to a concentration camp when Davide warned others in the community first that the Gestapo was coming. Davide wanted to show his fellow Jews he cared about them and wanted their acceptance for his forbidden romance. Somehow Davide’s sadness is that he failed Simone because he didn’t follow what was in his heart and warn him first.

In one of Davide’s more lucid moments, his dementia has a way of coming and going without explanation, he remembers he was a pastry chef and teaches her how to bake like a pro. Giovanna now has the nerve to quit the job she hates and make a living as a pastry chef. And wouldn’t you know it, things start getting better right away as Filippo goes on the day shift–a source of many of their arguments. The film closes with a long close up on Giovanna’s intense eyes. Clearly the young woman has given up on her fantasy of finding love in the arms of another (the grass is no longer greener somewhere else) and will try to bring the passion back in her marriage. Nothing wrong with the message, but it seemed too banal and forced into this claustrophobic narrative.

Though it was well acted with understated performances that were faultless and lushly photographed, its easily digestible lessons on life failed to stimulate my more hard-edged appetite. It seems to me brazen to be comparing a woman’s unsatisfactory married life as equal in suffering to a man facing homophobia, senility and the Holocaust. Anyway, that plot scheme was a bit more of a stretch than I was willing to buy into.

Facing Windows won 5 awards in the Italian Academy Award, including best picture and acting performances for Giovanna Mezzogiorno and Missimo Girotti.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”