Facing Windows

(La Finestra di Fronte, Ferzan Ozpetek, Italy, 2003)


I have seen Ferzan Ozpetek’s Facing Windows twice in a year, and each time – a little like its amnesiac central character – I have trouble remembering it in any detail a week later. That says something about its slightness (rather than, hopefully, my memory).

But it is an artful slightness, in the tradition of French films like Nelly and Mr Arnaud (1995) or Nathalie … (2003), where the drama emerges from slight tremors in the everyday: a chance meeting, an unspoken realisation, a sense of a stage in someone’s life beginning or ending.

Central to this kind of story is an intersection pattern: two destinies crossing at a moment that proves dramatic and in some way cathartic for both parties, although they may never share this insight with each other, or ever spend time together again.

This is the pattern traced by Facing Windows. Giovanna (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) is dissatisfied in her marriage to the devoted but rather luckless Filippo (Filippo Nigro). She would rather gaze dreamily into the facing window of the adjacent apartment lock, where the handsome Lorenzo (Raoul Bova) comes and goes.

The intersection point arrives when a distraught, amnesic old man (Massimo Girotti) enters the family life of Giovanna and Filippo. He is troubled by obscure memories of the war, and the pain associated with these events can be triggered by the slightest sight or sound. It is only late in the film that the other characters discover his full swag of poignant secrets.

Giovanna begins a tentative flirtation with Lorenzo, an intrigue in which the old man – his name eventually revealed as Davide – functions as a pretext. Her yearning is amplified by Davide’s wartime love letters, which we hear lyrically uttered on the soundtrack. But Ozpetek is careful to balance this interwoven romantic fantasy with glimpses of Filippo’s grief and the child-rearing obligations he takes on at home.

The success of this film is in the way it combines earthiness – the appetite metaphor is bolstered by a sub-plot devoted to cake-making – with romanticism, and in the way it lets its intimate, individual stories flow in the continuum of political history.

© Adrian Martin May 2004

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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