Saturday, June 26, 2004

Facing Windows (La Finestra di Fronte)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 26 June 2004 at Landmark Kendall Square #6 (first-run)

The preview Sony Pictures Classics cut for Facing Windows isn't quite deceptive - after all, unlike the advertising for many foreign films released in the United States, it's up front about the non-English dialogue - but it does tend to emphasize different things than the film. This is not really a "food movie", though there are a few cooking scenes. Also, it neglects to show that the woman apparently being prodded to talk to the cute guy in the next building is a married mother of two.

Giovanna (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) is not a pastry chef; she works in a chicken-processing plant while her husband Filippo currently works the night shift in a garage (he gets fired a lot). She does sell pies to a local pub for a little extra money, and all of it leaves her feeling overburdened. The last thing she needs is for her husband to bring in some confused octogenarian (Massimo Girotti) who doesn't even remember his own name. And though the audience will immediately recognize that he must have something to do with the film's opening segment, which takes place in 1943 Rome, what happened in the intervening 60 years is a mystery. Giovanna doesn't exactly turn amateur sleuth to solve the mystery, but along with Lorenzo, that attractive neighbor she's been nursing a crush on, she begins to find out pieces.

Where Facing Windows excels is in showing how the pieces are locked inside the mind of the old man (who tells Giovanna's daughter his name is "Simone"), but can't be accessed in any reliable fashion. The scenes meant to show his point of view are fragmentary, with a wandering camera and an intermingling of elements of the past and present. There's some digital trickery, but it is very low-key. Co-writer/director Ferzan Ozpetek and cinematographer Gianfilippo Corticelli really do some impressive work here, not just in those scenes, but in a slow and beautiful fade from black at the end of the opening credits, or the way they use reflections in mirrors and windows to connect Giovanna and Lorenzo when they're in their kitchens, either talking to each other on the phone or (earlier) when Giovanna is yearning for something outside her stressful life. There's an obvious (but nifty) digital effect used to show the transition between 1943 and 2003. And, yes, some of the cooking scenes do have a sensual zing to them.

But the cooking is not, somewhat unusually, evocative of raw passion. Girotti has a great line about how wonderful it must be to take love born of passion and transform it to keep it alive. Indeed, when we see that kind of passion, it comes off as a little bit creepy. Simone's lessons in the kitchen are also more about getting things exactly right than about boldness.

One thing I greatly enjoyed about Facing Windows is that it did not force parallels between Giovanna's and Simone's stories. They share a skill, and there are similar points to be made about potential and regret, but that's about it. There's also no obvious, tortured triangle thing going on. The film does not rest on interpreting the smallest gestures, but it avoids histrionics. It also make good use of the mystery of Simone both to drive Giovanna's story and as a puzzle which engages the audience (although we do seem to solve it much more quicklly than the characters).

I liked Facing Windows quite a bit - truth be told, I enjoyed it quite a bit more than I probably would have the movie about a young woman urged to be daring in both cooking and love that I was expecting.

No comments: