Facing Window Review

Born in Istanbul, the Italian director Ferzan Özpetek’s themes of family bonds, secret sexual identities and interracial relationships have been clearly defined in films such as Hammam: The Turkish Bath (1997) and Le Fate Ignoranti (2001). Moving more towards the mainstream, Özpetek ties these themes to a more conventional romantic thriller situation – and quite successfully judging by the 5 Donatello awards the film picked up in 2003 – but Facing Window seems to constantly lose focus in the process.

Opening in Rome in 1943, a baker’s apprentice suddenly kills his employer in a violent struggle. Sixty years later in Rome, Giovanna and Filippo meet an old man on a bridge, looking lost and confused, not even aware of his own name. They plan to take the old man to the police station, but he eventually ends up staying with them while they try to discover something about his background and whether anyone is looking for him. While baking some pastries for a café, Giovanna discovers that the man knows a lot about cooking sweets and cakes. He is also prone to hallucinatory memories, and is haunted by figures from the past on the streets of Rome.

Giovanna’s is going through an identity crisis of her own. Married to Filippo for nine years, with two kids, while working as an accountant in a chicken factory, her life doesn’t hold much promise. One day, while out trying to uncover the old man’s identity, she runs into the handsome young man, Lorenzo, a neighbour who she often watches from the window of her apartment. She gets the impression that her admiring glances across the street have not only been noticed, they appear to be reciprocated.

Rather than develop a suspenseful line through the film, Özpetek tends to compartmentalise each element, giving the film an episodic quality - with even a cookery lesson thrown in for good measure - none of which convincingly blend into a complete film. Principally, from the setup of the opening sequence and the subsequent discovery, sixty years later of an amnesiac old man, the film sets up a mystery plot, hinting at a dark secret in the past. This hidden past is not kept in the dark too long, and you’ll work it out even sooner if you have seen the Spanish film En La Ciudad Sin Límites (The City of No Limits) or have come across any of the revelations in Özpetek’s previous films.

The film soon sidetracks the element of the amnesiac man when Lorenzo is introduced into the story. Somewhat tellingly, at a café scene where Giovanna and Lorenzo find they only have eyes for each other, the old man, who they believe is called Simone, slips out of their notice. In the same way the mystery element of the film also seems to just slip away in favour of Giovanna’s story and unfortunately, it’s not the most original of plot lines either. It is perhaps only to be expected that the film would capitalise on its two glamorous actors, Giovanna Mezzogiorno and Raoul Bova, but the story of their romance (if you haven’t worked out that there is a romance, you haven’t looked at the cover closely enough) is surprisingly banal and predictable. A pretty, young housewife bored of her tedious existence falls for the handsome young neighbour who has the hots for her and whose glasses (oh dear, should have gone to Specsavers) can’t hide his male-model good looks. Should she surrender to her passion and rediscover herself, or should she stay with her loving family and make the best of what she has? Yes, the central dilemma of the film really is as banal as that.

Partly a murder-mystery thriller and partly a look at romantic love in its many forms, Ozpetek tries to gather the various episodic threads of Facing Window into a single theme - one that is common to the Turkish born Italian director’s other films, The Turkish Bath and Le Fate Ignoranti - gathering a number of uncommon relationships, interracial, homosexual, adulterous, showing what makes them work (it’s all about love) and calling for tolerance and understanding. Taking these themes from the Turkish baths and Ottoman Harems of his earlier films and bringing them into a more conventional Italian movie setting, Ferzan Özpetek in Facing Window attempts to put these ideas into practice, but they are not well supported here by either the script or the situations, and the heavy-handed manner in which they are handled means this really adds up to little more than ‘variety is the spice of life’ and ‘make the most of what you’ve got’.

Facing Window is released in the UK by Soda Pictures. The DVD is encoded for Region 2.

The image is sharp, crystal clear throughout, with deep blacks, bold colours, strong contrast and good levels of detail. Colours perhaps are slightly over-saturated, or at least skin tones sometimes have an inaccurate pinkish-red tone. The print itself is mostly free from marks and scratches, though some white dustspots might be more noticeable in darker scenes.

The audio track is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0, with no surround mix, and this is generally more than adequate for the nature of the film. Dialogues are clear, as is the music score, although it sounded a little on the thin side to me, with no background noise or hiss of any kind.

English subtitles are provided in white font and are optional. They are a reasonable size and when running to two lines appear both within and outside the 2.35:1 frame.

There are no extra features with this film, just a couple of trailers for other Soda Pictures releases, Reconstruction and Brothers.

Facing Window is a well-made little film with interesting themes, but ultimately is unsure whether it wants to be a thriller, a commentary on social relationships or a romantic drama and consequently loses a lot of the emotional and dramatic force it otherwise might have had. The film did however achieve a certain amount of success and awards in Italy, so perhaps this is enough for most people. Soda Pictures unfortunately don’t provide much in the way of supporting material for this film on the UK Region 2 DVD release, but the picture and sound quality are of fine quality.

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