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La Finestra di fronte (Facing Windows)

(2004) * 1/2 R
106 min. Sony Pictures Classics. Director: Ferzan Ozpetek. Cast: Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Massimo Girotti, Raoul Bova, Filippo Nigro, Serra Yilmaz.

However well-intentioned Facing Windows may be, Ferzan Özpetek's romantic drama sweats for stirring profundity but comes off as obvious, listless, and thoroughly cliched. Don't let the subtitles fool you: this standard-issue melodrama is a prettified stinker.

In modern-day Rome, testy housewife Giovanna (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) chafes against her good but boringly feckless husband Filippo (Filippo Nigro); on the street, they encounter an elderly man (the late Massimo Girotti) wandering dazedly through the city. Reluctantly taking him in—and resolved to get rid of him—the couple buy themselves an opportunity to set things righter than they are, but also more trouble for their marriage.

More trouble, because Giovanna spends her nights pining for the neighbor (Raoul Bova of Under the Tuscan Sun) she glimpses across the way from their apartment, through the facing window. Though Giovanna obviously finds her button-down fantasy object sexy, the blank Bova does nothing (other than looking pretty) to indicate why he's so much better than the nice-guy husband and father she so brusquely dismisses.

Anywho, Giovanna and her neighbor team up to uncover the mystery of the old man and repeatedly not to have sex. Instead, Giovanna rediscovers her repressed passion for pastry. That's right: for years, she has dreamed of being a pastry chef instead of a working-class chicken handler. Carpe diem, says the old man (a pastry chef himself: quel surprise!), whose secrets of the past involve the Holocaust and his own supressed passions and regrets. The attempts to parallel Giovanna and the old man are sadly unconvincing, and Özpetek evidently has nothing to say about the eternal theme of voyeurism.

Facing Windows has a few assets. Özpetek's clever photographic bonding of 1940s Rome to the modern-day city (one gives way to the other in unbroken shots) says far more about the vicissitudes of time and fate than the overheated plot. Girotti's fervid intensity lends the script more than it deserves, while leading lady Mezzogiorno brings her sultry astringency (last on display in The Last Kiss) to bear on Giovanna. That Mezzogiorno dares to make her romantic heroine unlikeable makes her sexier and gives her character somewhere to go; sadly, Özpetek doesn't take her there in this paperback movie, a Zalman King movie without the softcore sex.

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