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Facing Windows

Reviewed By Stephen Groenewegen
Posted 05/17/04 17:55:31

"Mills & Boon in another language is still Mills & Boon"
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

A mysterious old man offers the key to unlocking a young woman’s passion in Facing Window (La Finesta Di Fronte), an Italian romantic drama by Ferzan Ozpetek. He is also the only link between two secret love affairs taking place 60 years apart.

Rome, 1943: after an anguished struggle, a boyish pastry chef stabs his sneering co-worker to death. Flash forward six decades to a young married couple out shopping - and arguing. Giovanna (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) and Filippo (Filippo Nigro) come across a bewildered and amnesiac gentleman (Massimo Girotti) and take him back to their flat.

Giovanna has a doting husband and two kids but feels trapped and bored by her marriage and thankless chicken factory job. She spies on an attractive stranger whose apartment window is opposite theirs. When the old man wanders off the next day, it is Lorenzo (Raoul Bova) from the facing window who helps her locate him. Piecing together the man’s history - and the story of his lost love - brings Lorenzo and Giovanna closer.

Facing Window is initially intriguing while you sort out the mystery, but becomes increasingly banal. Ozpetek and co-writer Gianni Romoli are content merely to spin a sentimental love story, aimed at a demographic of frustrated housewives and little old ladies. David, the old man and pastry chef of the prologue, is a concentration camp survivor and there is real pain in his background. But he turns out only to be a plot device, designed to prompt Giovanna to question what she wants out of life.

We never learn why he loses his memory or what - conveniently - causes him to regain it later on. David is simply an accessory to Giovanna’s awakening - a wrinkly old handbag with a sideline in dispensing life wisdom. As a character, his needs and desires are entirely secondary to Giovanna’s. In the film’s silliest scene, he releases decades of pent-up sexual frustration in a flurry of cake making.

Mezzogiorno’s face recalls Sean Young from the mid-1980s, as does her alternating blank expression and petulant manner. This film is ripe for a Hollywood remake starring Diane Lane. Raoul Bova, who appeared opposite Lane in Under the Tuscan Sun, plays Lorenzo, the object of Giovanna’s affection. His Clark Kent glasses and bland demeanour make him an unlikely love interest, as does his affinity for stalking (why is Giovanna not disturbed by this?).

His charm pales next to the charismatic and likeable Filippo. Although Filippo was probably conceived as a gullible simpleton, Nigro invests him with recognisable humanity and it’s hard to understand why Giovanna would ever stray from the marital home. The 85 year-old Girotti lends the film gravity as David. Sadly, he died soon after shooting wrapped.

It’s not just the cakes that are overcooked in Facing Window. Under Ozpetek’s arch direction, emotions go the same route. Such stares of passionate longing! Such dramatic sighs! This is old-fashioned and overwrought soap opera, trying to pass as a romantic story with historical resonance.

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