Facing Windows

In the Italian melodrama Facing Windows, star Giovanna Mezzogiorno lives in a place with no secrets. Raising two kids in a crowded apartment complex, she hears every fight between the couple above and she overlaps her family with that of a coworker, who helps with the babysitting duties to the point where all the kids seem like part of the same brood. Even the rare moment Mezzogiorno has to herself to smoke a cigarette and stare out the window mocks her with a handsome stranger (Raoul Bova) who lives too nearby to qualify as a safe fantasy.

As if trying to upset this unhappy balance, a spontaneous act of kindness by her husband (Filippo Nigro) brings into their already-crowded home a man who's all secrets, a wandering, elderly amnesiac played by the late Massimo Girotti. Nigro is too lazy to file a police report, so Girotti becomes a semi-permanent member of their household, and while it's nice to watch a one-time star for Luchino Visconti, Roberto Rossellini, Vittorio De Sica, and others have a final moment in the spotlight, this is where Facing Windows gets into trouble. Having effectively established the claustrophobia of Mezzogiorno's life through understated performances and graceful camerawork, Facing Windows begins to rely on one of the deadliest story elements around: the mystical elderly.

True, Girotti has no magical powers, but his dementia has a way of coming and going at just the right time to move the story and themes wherever director Ferzan Ozpetek and co-writer Gianni Romoli want them to go, throwing Mezzogiorno into Bova's path and even awakening her culinary imagination when Girotti remembers that he used to be a pastry chef. This questionable device gets even more problematic when Girotti's past as a Holocaust survivor and his forbidden love for another man enter the picture to teach Mezzogiorno a lesson about the importance of pursuing happiness. Melodramas don't have to be subtle, but Ozpetek—who had a similar problem capitalizing on good acting and a strong sense of place in the 2001 film His Secret Life—might have thought twice about comparing his heroine's difficult marriage and unsatisfying career with an era of culturally accepted homophobia and the Holocaust. The equation just doesn't even out, and the imbalance topples the film.

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