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Photograph by Romolo Eucalitto

Banker's Hours: Raul Bova and Giovanna Mezzogiorno see each other in 'Facing Windows.'

Eye of the Tiber

'Facing Windows': Roman setting, roaming plot

By Richard von Busack

CROSSING A BRIDGE over the Tiber, a couple in midsquabble—a daily routine for them, it seems—stumble across a well-dressed old man who has lost his memory. He calls himself Simone (Massimo Girotti), though he's later identified as Davide. The Italian film Facing Windows begins when "Simone" allows himself to be taken home by the couple: the shaven-headed, semiemployed Filippo (Filippo Nigro) and his wife, Giovanna (Giovanna Mezzogiorno), an exhausted mom of two who works as an accountant in a chicken-packing factory. The arrival of Simone, a gent from a gentler world, changes the balance of life in Filippo and Giovanna's tiny, crowded apartment.

Filippo dawdles about taking the elderly man to the police station. Giovanna gets exasperated over the delay and picks fights with her husband, who has just landed a job working the night shift at a gas station. While he's gone at night, Giovanna works her second job, making cakes and cookies to sell to her friend's bar and restaurant. During these solitary nights, Giovanna watches the man in the apartment opposite her. Through her facing window, she sees a scholarly looking banker named Lorenzo (Raul Bova, who looks oddly like Clark Kent). In the meantime, we learn the secret of Simone/Davide's identity and how an act of sacrifice kept him sad and alone for years. Director Ferzan Ozpetek combines the working-class tragedies of a neorealist movie with the soapiest of romance. The badly handled flashbacks aim to tie up the old man's past with his present. Ozpetek uses the most trouble-free but hackneyed method to show us the old man's memories: having Girotti's Davide sit and look agonized while sound effects play in the background. These scenes beg the question of what triggered Davide's amnesia, what had become of him over the years and why he wasn't considered a local hero for what he did in the 1940s. Rome may be an eternal city, but the attitudes in it changed over the course of the decades, and the old man's 60-year sequestration is hard to believe.

World War II is hauled in as an old-fashioned tragedy to contrast with a more everyday sorrow: Giovanna's exhaustion from overwork and her temptation to run away with this handsome man from across the hall. This part of the story—the lure of the forbidden—has no counterweight to it. Filippo seems like a surly overgrown boy; every woman in the audience will be muttering, "Ditch him." The film turns out not just to be about dissatisfaction: in fact, it is dissatisfying, and neither the scenery nor the performances make it worth recommending. Even the food-porn of the pastry-making sequences doesn't add much. Of course, those moments aren't meant for us but for posterity: as seen in the moments in Soylent Green where the famine-wracked hordes of the future to go to the movies to watch 20th-century people eat.

Facing Windows (Unrated; 106 min.), directed by Ferzan Ozpetek, written by Gianni Romoli and Ozpetek, photographed by Gianfilippo Corticelli and starring Filippo Nigro and Giovanna Mezzogiorno and Massimo Girotti, opens Friday at Camera 3 in San Jose.

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Web extra to the June 23-29, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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