Directed by Ferzan Ozpetek. Starring Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Massimo Girotti, Raoul Bova, Filippo Nigro, Serra Yilmaz. (2003, R, 102 min.)
REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., July 30, 2004
This well-intentioned but overburdened domestic drama has its ups and downs. Up: the wonderful Mezzogiorno, who has the flinty vulnerability of a young Debra Winger, as a wife and mother sandbagged by her 10-year marriage and an uninspiring job in a poultry-processing plant. Down: MezzogiornoÕs infatuation with her hunky across-the-way neighbor (Bova), a bespectacled Eurostud seemingly on loan from a library layout in the International Male catalog. Up: prolific Italian idol Girotti, who died in 2003, in his final film role. Down: GirottiÕs role as a senile master pastry chef who recalls little but a lost love affair from 1943. Writer-director Ozpetek strives to rekindle outrage at the horrors of the Holocaust and connect its anguish with contemporary problems. An admirable goal, to be sure. The problem is in the execution. Whereas Elvis Mitchell (writing in The New York Times on The Green Mile and The Legend of Bagger Vance) identified an archetype of a saintly African-American male who helps Whitey solve his love problems, Girotti functions as a sort of Gay Octogenarian Concentration Camp Survivor whose function is to set Mezzogiorno on the path to self-fulfillment. "You must demand to live in a better world," he intones from the brink of death, surrounded by fancy cakes, "not just dream about it. I didnÕt do that." Should Giovanna abscond with her neighbor or remain with her husband (Nigro), a night-shift machinist? Should Giovanna follow her dream of baking her own fancy cakes, or should she count chickens on the assembly line? Meanwhile the sentimental score underscores every beat, and whimsical kitchen montages ensue. The filmÕs parallel structure is too cumbersome and unnecessarily complex; following the exposition keeps the viewer from ever really being in the moment with the characters. ItÕs a shame because Facing Windows attempts something remarkable and rarely seen: dramatizing a womanÕs choices and complicated feelings. There are too few stories in the world about what happens after we fall in love, about how we can try to rediscover ourselves as we grow older and start families and settle into work that no longer inspires us. Yet these are precisely the problems most people face. MezzogiornoÕs fine performance keeps the film anchored in this rocky emotional terrain, even as the filmmakers pile on the plot twists and mannered speeches, leaving Facing Windows stuck somewhere between melodrama and the flat tone of an "issues"-oriented television miniseries.