One pleasure of the bittersweet drama Facing Windows is letting Ferzan Ozpetek slowly reveal who and what his film is really about. And his eventual clumsiness wrapping things up is this otherwise engaging film's biggest problem.
Ozpetek's protagonist is Giovanna (Giovanna Mezzogiorno), a 29-year-old mother of two who works as an accountant in a chicken plant in Rome. Cautious and suspicious by nature, she's aggravated when her husband, an ambitionless softy named Filippo (Filippo Nigro), insists they aid a confused old man they meet one day on the street. Simone (Massimo Girotti), as he's apparently called, has lost his memory, and for several days becomes an unwanted if unobtrusive houseguest.
Working in fairly graceful, measured steps, Ozpetek paints his portrait of Giovanna's discontent with her job and her husband, along with her Peeping Tomasina infatuation with Lorenzo (Raoul Bova), the slender, square-jawed and sensitive young man whose front window sits across from her kitchen window in their neighboring high-rises. Facing Windows begins with a crucial if inconclusive shard of Simone's past, but it's a smartly observed ride through the first act until we learn that it's not his story, but Giovanna's, that Ozpetek most wants to tell.
And that's actually fine: Giovanna, goaded by an earthy neighbor, slides toward an affair with Lorenzo; Simone's history (and his real name) are gradually revealed in some lovely, nearly dialogueless passages that poetically express his addled mind; and exceptional acting makes it all quite credible and affecting. Mezzogiorno and Girotti (whose filmography dates to the 1940s) are particularly good, their characters' off-centered relationship one of quietly blooming empathy and admiration. "It must be beautiful to watch love grow that started only as passion," says a still-amnesiac Simone, and the sentiment echoes poignantly both forward and backward in both their stories.
In the third act, however, the film's elegant façade begins to crumble, as Ozpetek tries to reinforce the tenuous connection between the movie's themes of love and the pursuit of one's passions and the framing story (Simone's) that binds them together. He renders a series of emotional climaxes heavy-handedly, in one instance with uncharacteristically swelling soundtrack music; a time-lapse-photography sequence sticks out like a stylistic sore thumb. Perhaps most unhappily, Simone's secret, when eventually revealed, seems both too grandiose and too minimally detailed to make us really feel its weight, wrapping lost love in dire circumstances in a way for which the script hasn't adequately prepared us.
Still, the Turkish-born, Italian-trained director and co-writer of Hamam and His Secret Life has made a handsome and tolerably good movie, one whose windows try to look both out on the world and in on the soul. In Italian, with subtitles.