Melodrama Steams Up 'Facing Windows'

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By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 16, 2004

With so many subthemes in "Facing Windows," there's hardly any room for a theme. Let's see, there's eroticism, the Holocaust, love, betrayal, homosexuality, voyeurism, amnesia, eldercare, a hidden identity, parenting, unhappy marriages, romantic longing for the idealized other, and, of course, pastry.

It's Italian, it's actually quite mesmerizing in the manner of '50s psychological melodrama held together by incredible coincidences, everyone in it is splendidly attractive, and when you get out, you will be thinking: "I have to get a pie soon."

It begins on the streets of Rome, where a squabbling married couple (say, early thirties) make eye contact with a distinguished-looking but clearly mentally maladjusted old man. Urban tip: Never make eye contact. Souls touch via the eyes, and all hell can be unleashed. But soft-touch hubby Filippo (Filippo Nigro) insists upon bringing the old guy home, and his wife, Giovanna, has to care for him. That's their relationship in a nutshell: He's impulsive, kind-hearted but completely irresponsible; she's the one who has to pick up the pieces he leaves.

But wait, there's more. Lord, is there more! At the same time, the winsome Giovanna (Giovanna Mezzogiorno, who's enchanting in that fey way -- or is it a Tina Fey way?) has construed an intense crush on a man who lives across the street. They have "facing windows" and she's completely attracted to him, possibly because he's a gorgeous guy but more probably because her husband's an idiot and she has a terrible job (accountant and inspector in a chicken processing plant).

Unhappy marriage. Longing. Peeping. Mysterious old man. Chicken plant. What did I forget? Oh, yes, the movie opens in 1943, when a young baker gets in a fight with an older baker, kills him with a knife and races out into the night, hysterically. What can possibly link all these elements together?

The answer would be a plot so dense and unlikely that Jacqueline Susann would have rejected it. But its absurdity doesn't take away from the slick allure of the movie, and the beauty and passion of La Mezzogiorno, as she negotiates what looks like it's going to be an affair with her handsome neighbor (Raoul Bova) as they meet cute (the old man wanders off, and guess who finds him?) and bond, backtracking to a certain bloody night in 1943 when . . .

Well, there aren't enough commas left in this machine to get it all in. Let's put it this way: When an amnesiac recovers his memory at just the right time, when he turns out to be a world-renowned pastry chef and when the woman who has cared for him also wants to be a pastry chef, you know you're not in a genre called neorealism. Still, the film is slick, beautifully acted and completely entrancing. You'll laugh at the hokum -- beginning about 20 minutes after you've walked out and while you're still enjoying that nice hot slice o' pie.

Facing Windows (106 minutes, at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle) is rated R for sexual content.


© 2004 The Washington Post Company

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