Movie Review - Lights out

Pull the shade on genre-bending Facing Windows

A bickering young couple find an elegantly dressed old man wandering the streets of Rome, unsure of where or who he is.

Viewers of Facing Windows may feel similarly disoriented watching this Italian import. Are we watching a domestic melodrama? A mystery? A romance? At one point, the film even suggests it might transform into a ghost story. Keep the audience guessing, Facing Windows suggests, and maybe no one will bother to ask where the hell it's all going.

Giovanna's (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) tenderhearted husband Filippo (Filippo Nigro) takes in the elderly man, Simone (Massimo Girotti), and before long, he has insinuated himself into their manic, stressful household.

The plot thickens when Giovanna loses Simone outside a bar one night, and handsome neighbor Lorenzo (Raoul Bova) helps her recover the errant geriatric.

But that meeting is hardly accidental. Swoon-worthy he-man Lorenzo — who looks like he could bust out all-Superman if he ever removed his studious banker's glasses — lives in the facing window across the street from Giovanna. And like a good stalker, rather than a bad one, he has been watching her for months, waiting for just such an occasion to make his move.

Lorenzo is like the human version of a Calgon bubble bath, and Giovanna pleads, "take me away!" as she appraises her loutish, underemployed husband and then casts her eyes across the street at Mr. Wonderful looking soulfully in her direction.

As Giovanna's affair with Lorenzo heats up, the film cuts the relatively nonexistent tension with news of Simone's secret life. Simone was not, after all, just some Alzheimer's afflicted nobody wandering the streets of Rome. In copious, garbled flashbacks, Simone is shown as something of a former hunk himself — a gay Jew in Nazi-occupied Rome who lost his lover in the concentration camps.

Despite that compelling back story, Simone tends to play second fiddle to Giovanna's journey of self-discovery. Director Ferzan Ozpetek puts romance front and center — Holocaust be damned — and thus invests the film with some of the soapy delusions of the creakiest old-school melodrama. As if channeling the ghost of Joan Crawford, Ozpetek tends to wring his hands far more vigorously than the situation calls for. Brows are knit. Characters look troubled. They rush desperately through hallways but then find their one chance at happiness has left the building.

Mostly, Simone seems inserted into the drama as a kind of fairy godmother doling out romantic advice to Giovanna. He's part Yoda, part Eve Arden in Mildred Pierce. He implores Giovanna to follow her heart, both in her love life and in her secret dream of becoming a pastry chef. In one of the strangest equations of the Holocaust with romantic ennui, he urges her not to repeat the mistakes of Roman Jews: "Don't be content to merely survive," he tells her, likening her failure to live her adulterous dreams with Lorenzo to the Jews' susceptibility to Nazi propaganda.

The biggest draw in Facing Windows may be Mezzogiorno, a charismatic beauty with the earthy sensuality of Debra Winger and some of the ice princess reticence of Sean Young. She almost makes you forget you are watching a better-lit, European answer to "Melrose Place." The film hangs on Mezzogiorno's captivating face, as if searching for direction, and it's there you can almost forget you're in the midst of a mediocre film.