3 stars (out of 4)
The late Massimo Girotti gives a towering performance as an elderly concentration camp survivor in the romantic Italian drama "Facing Windows." Acting in a minimalist, quiet style that tears at your heart, Girotti, a 65-year veteran of Italian and world cinema, crafted a magnificent valedictory for his career--though "Windows," sadly, was released shortly after his recent death at 85.
Girotti, who may be most famous for playing the John Garfield role in Luchino Visconti's 1942 "Ossessione," the Italian version of "The Postman Always Rings Twice," here plays octogenarian Davide--a daring role for several reasons. Working for the audacious young Turkish-Italian filmmaker Fernan Ozpetek ("Steam: The Turkish Bath," "His Secret Life"), Girotti perfectly suggests an old gay amnesiac Italian Jew, whose mind keeps shifting between past and present as he is cared for, at first grudgingly, by a young working class couple with troubles of their own.
At first, Davide's features are blank, a cipher. Gradually, light breaks over them, like a sunrise over snowy crags. And, as always, the highly sculptured, darkly handsome features of Girotti--a long-time matinee idol and acting great, whose career also included such classics as Pasolini's "Teorema" (1969) and Bertolucci's "Last Tango in Paris" (1973)--etch themselves deeply in our minds.
Girotti has a great movie face and so does the young actress, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, who plays Giovanna, Davide's reluctant young hostess. Mezzogiorno headed the lively comic ensemble of "The Last Kiss" as the cheated wife. Here, she plays an archetypal romantic role: a lonely, frustrated housewife who nourishes erotic fantasies for a handsome young bachelor (Raoul Bova as Lorenzo) whose apartment window (and active sex life) she spies at night--while he, secretly, spies on her as well. Soon, both are in a position to fulfill those dreams.
Giovanna's catalyst is Davide and his past--which she gradually discovers. Sixty years earlier, one night in wartime 1943, Davide sacrificed his lover Simone, to warn his straight Jewish neighbors of an impending Nazi roundup. We see the beginning of that night of terror in the film's prelude: as young baker's apprentice Davide (Massimo Poggio) kills his fascist employer so he can escape and warn of the arrests.
Now, 60 years later, his mind crumbling, Davide can only murmur "Simone" when Giovanna and her overworked husband Filippo (Filippo Nigro) find the old man wandering in the streets in 2003. Against Giovanna's opposition, Filippo offers their hospitality to the man they think is called Simone--but she's reconciled as his past emerges and his expertise as a master pastry chef (which he became after World War II) is at her disposal. (She's an aspiring, frustrated baker herself.) He also, unintentionally one night, introduces her to Lorenzo--whom he mistakes one night for his long-dead lover Simone.
It's a corny and utterly implausible story in many ways--but, like "The Notebook," it's an implausible romance that connects with us because of the lush style and the power of the performances. Ozpetek--whose previous movies include the gay arthouse romantic dramas "Steam: The Turkish Bath" and "His Secret Life"--is, in a way, making another gay drama here. But he's also moving more into the mainstream; "Facing Windows," done in a more expansive style, was a big Italian hit, besides winning four Italian Oscars (or David di Donatello Awards) including Best Picture and Best Actor and Actress, for Girotti and Mezzogiorno.
Breaking out of the more hothouse, hermetic worlds of "Steam" and "Secret Life," Ozpetek brings a straight love story and world politics into the mix, but it's his brilliant cast which completes the connection.
Directed by Ferzan Ozpetek; written by Gianni Romoli, Ozpetek; photographed by Gianfilippo Corticelli; edited by Patrizio Marone; production designed by Andrea Crisanti; music by Andrea Guerra; produced by Tilde Corsi, Gianni Romoli. In Italian, with English subtitles. A Sony Pictures Classics release; opens Friday at The Music Box Theatre. Running time: 1:46. No MPAA rating. Parents cautioned for violence, sexuality, language and mature themes.
Giovanna - Giovanna Mezzogiorno
Davide - Massimo Girotti
Lorenzo - Raoul Bova
Filippo - Filippo Nigro
Emine - Serra Yilmaz
Younger Davide - Massimo Poggio