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A frequently mesmerizing, glossy tale of love and mystery, Ferzan Ozpetek's Facing Windows has a visual and tonal confidence that draws you in and bolts you to your seat—until the moment, halfway through the film, when you realize that it's a film that's just trying to do too much. An intriguing and haunting beginning, a tight ensemble of energetic Italian performers, a bouncy and infectious score, and an absolutely luminous lead actress—it all gets the film off to a fine start, and those elements are nearly enough to carry you through to film's end, when Facing Windows' myriad elements come together in a brash, dramatic crescendo. But not quite.
Walking the streets of Rome, beautiful Giovanna (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) and her husband Filippo (Filippo Nigro) are having a minor argument when they come across a dazed-looking older gentleman named Simone (Massimo Girotti), who seems to have a case of amnesia. Much to Giovanna's dismay, Filippo decides to take the man home, intending to drop him by the police station later. One thing leads to another, and the man end ups staying with the couple and their family for an extended period. As we delve into this strange family dynamic further, we learn that Giovanna is unhappy in her marriage and pines for her handsome neighbor Lorenzo (Raoul Bova), whom she studies—Rear Window-like—from her kitchen window. The suave, man-about-town neighbor seems to represent everything she's missing in her unsatisfied wife-and-mother life.
As we gradually learn more about the distinguished gentleman with the memory problem, Facing Windows starts to sag beneath the weight of its ambitions. Giovanna and Lorenzo, thrown together by circumstance, find themselves chasing the mystery behind Simone's amnesia, and they unearth long-buried secrets that reach back to World War II, and soon you see that Simone's complicated history of denied love and dashed dreams mirrors Giovanna's frustrating scenario. And maybe Facing Windows is going a bit too far when it's revealed that both Simone and Giovanna share a love for creating fine pastries, and these scrumptious concoctions become the catalyst for Giovanna's inner makeover. But that's okay. Giovanna is so captivating that I didn't care about contrivance.
The same could be said of the film in general: Facing Windows is so well-produced and gorgeous and enthralling that you forgive the coincidences and piles of plot points and just relax under the sway of Italian gloss. Performances are universally fine—particularly Mezzogiorno, whose beautiful countenance works on you like a drug, and Girotti, who exudes mystery even though his character has a habit of regaining his memory when it's convenient for the plot. Andrea Guerra's robust Italian score hits all the right notes, and Ozpetek's clever direction pulls you in as surely as the fragrance of a fine pastry.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
Columbia/TriStar presents Facing Windows in a splendid anamorphic-widescreen transfer of the film's original 2.35:1 theatrical presentation. Detail and sharpness are spot-on, giving the image a gratifying sense of depth. There are close-up moments in this image that rival high definition—they have a positively liquid depth. Flesh tones are natural. Colors are rich and vivid without being overpowering, and blacks are inky while maintaining good (though not excellent) shadow detail. I noticed no bothersome artifacting, and no edge haloes, to obscure the image's excellent depth and clarity.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
The disc's Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 track is perfectly in service of the material. Facing Windows is mostly a dialog-driven film, and as such, dialog is finely rendered, with clarity and resonance. When the film opens up into Andrea Guerra's score, the room fills with it, with excellent openness across the front and into the rears. In occasional crowd scenes and outdoor sequences, there's a pleasing spaciousness. I wouldn't call the surround activity aggressive, but it's effective in its subtlety. A fine effort.
The disc offers English and French subtitles.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
You get Trailers for Facing Windows, Respiro, Spring Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring, Young Adam, The Mother, Zhou Yu's Train, Head in the Clouds, She Hate Me, Touch of Pink, Monsieur Ibrahim, The Company, and Bon Voyage.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
Facing Windows is a fine Italian mystery/drama worthy of at least a rental. Image and sound quality are far above average, but sadly, extras are meager.