Facing Windows Movie Review

Director and screenwriter Ferzan Ozpetek's latest movie Facing Windows begins like a Hitchcock thriller. 1943 in Nazi occupied Italy. Late one night a young man commits murder, runs off into the wet and shadowy back alleys, and mysteriously disappears forever.

In sudden counterpoint to this fear and tension from the past come the modern strains of a couple arguing about kids and money. Giovanna (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) hates her job as a bookkeeper in a chicken factory and husband Filippo (Filippo Nigro) can't seem to hold a job and is too dependent on her. She wants more from him than he seems able to give.

It's a visual shift in tone that Ozpetek brings into play throughout the movie, using it wisely and deftly to explore his themes of how desire conflicts with reality -- how unexpected events impose themselves on our dreams. The technique works so well it carries us through the predictability of the story.

Giovanna escapes the weary burden of job, children, and husband with a pre-bed ritual: She stands by the kitchen window and smokes, turning out the light to better gaze through the window at the apartment facing hers. The good-looking bachelor across the way, Lorenzo (Raoul Bova), lives a conventional life, but to Giovanna he is full of mystery and yearning. It's a standard device, and again Hitchcockian, but Ozpetek makes it his own by getting us to empathize with Giovanna's conflict between what she longs for and what she has.

Meanwhile Filippo only makes his wife feel more careworn when he brings home a half-senile old man he found on the street. Simone (Massimo Girotti) doesn't remember who or where he is, but he is clean, well dressed, and speaks in enigmatic clues. It is through him that Giovanna gets a chance meeting with Lorenzo and this sets off her journey to discover who this man is, where he came from, and of course, discover herself in the process.

Simone's story reflects back to that opening scene, but solving that mystery isn't the movie's story. Simone offers wisdom, for he, like Giovanna, was sidetracked and his life has been one of unfulfilled desires. He urges Giovanna not to repeat his mistake. If her real passion is to become a pastry chef, then quit bookkeeping and make the sacrifices necessary. Want to go off with Lorenzo? Why suffer Filippo?

This "follow your bliss" message from the wise old man is groan-worthy. Still Ozpetek takes us through the weak story by using flashbacks to show how Simone's youthful conflicts and yearnings parallel Giovanna's similar emotions in the present. It's remarkably insightful and observant. In the movie's most poignant scene, Giovanna finally goes to Lorenzo's apartment (he has been gazing at her through the window and wanting her as she has been wanting him) only to discover her long-held passion is not the liberating, unbridled delight she expected. Looking through Lorenzo's window at her own apartment, she sees her children and their father playing, having a grand time. He's a great father, and isn't that what she wanted? She then imagines her own figure gazing back at her. Our wishes come with conflict and consequences.

Until recently Ozpetek's reputation was based mainly on gay cult films. When Facing Windows swept the Italian Oscars (David Di Donatello awards) in 2003 he earned a distribution deal in the United States and entered the international mainstream. Ozpetek may be a director who gets inside his characters better than he tells a story, but that may develop and change. We're going to see more of his distinct talents in the future.

Aka La Finestra di fronte.

Window shopping makes me hungry.

Comments

Facing Windows Rating

" OK "

Rating: R, 2003

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