Italian 'Window' Dressing
By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 16, 2004; Page WE42
"FACING WINDOWS" wants to draw you in with a fancy narrative trick.
The first scene shows an outburst of violence in a bakery in Rome, 1943. Then it cuts to the same city in the present, where a harried young couple is about to encounter an elderly man with amnesia or possibly Alzheimer's disease. You don't need to have gone to film school to guess that this old fella and the two young guys duking it out in the bakery are going to be connected.
In Ferzan Ozpetek's Italian-language film, the old man (played by the late Massimo Girotti), impeccably dressed and clearly confused, is wandering the streets of Rome. He stops Giovanna (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) and her husband, Filippo (Filippo Nigro), to ask for help. A few Italian-movie moments later, the stranger, whose name is Simone, is staying over at their place. Somehow, there's always a reason that the cops won't take him off their hands. And then there's the bonding: Giovanna, an aspiring baker, begins to connect with Simone in the kitchen. He seems to have a lot of, you guessed it, baking know-how.
Giovanna is unhappy in her marriage. Filippo can't hold a job. They bicker a lot. And there's a promising option for her: a male model of a guy (Raoul Bova) with stylish glasses who happens to live in an apartment (hence the title) across the short street. (Do I even need to tell you he wears black?)
Actually, as with most scenes in the movie, it isn't a street. It's just a section of studio. Indeed, everything seems to be on a soundstage, with lighting that's almost preciously chiaroscuro and the kind of drippy, syrupy music found in more than one Italian studio movie. This glossy veneer of artificiality, handled masterfully in the films of Douglas Sirk, Todd Haynes and Pedro Almodovar, doesn't feel classic here so much as cheesy.
Everything has been cutified and dolled up. Not for one minute do you think you're watching actual, real people. Just actors, lit up, beautiful and performing away. And of course, being attractive. Mezzogiorno makes fine Italian viewing for one crowd and Bova for another. And the bald-shaven Nigro has a sort of cute, Bruce Willis quality.
There is a whole design to the movie that viewers should discover for themselves. It involves Giovanna's increasing appreciation for the old man, her attraction to Clarko Kentini across the way (actually his name is Lorenzo), and some traumatic business from the Holocaust past. The best way to appreciate the movie is to get lost in beauty and impossibly glossy lifestyles. There's something diverting but not wildly stirring about this Italian drama, whose most touching element is incidental: This film marks the last appearance of Girotti, who was once a small-scale star in the 1930s and 1940s before becoming a longtime character actor until January 2003, when he passed away. He ended his career with a graceful performance.
FACING WINDOWS (R, 106 minutes) -- Contains nudity, some obscenity, some disturbing themes and sexual situations. In Italian with subtitles. At the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Giovanna Mezzogiorno and Filippo Nigro as the unhappy couple Giovanna and Filippo in the Italian drama "Facing Windows."
(Romolo Eucalitto -- Sony Pictures Classics)