The inclusion of a reference to windows in a film’s title is often neither subtle nor lacking in symbolism, even under the most assured of guidance. Undercurrents of voyeurism are automatically conjured, ones inevitably embodied in the feature’s content. Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller Rear Window remains the most obvious and deservedly acclaimed example, renowned for its astute treatment of the concept. Yet, in a field of films that includes stalker drama Windows and Fritz Lang’s noir The Woman in the Window, Ferzan Ozpetek’s Facing Windows (La Finestra di fronte) makes a welcome addition.
Though the basics of its prurient storyline are enunciated in its title, the honest and heartfelt Facing Windows proves to be predicated upon more than peering through glass surfaces. Reminiscent of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s consummate Three Colours trilogy (and in particular the final instalment in the series, Three Colours Red), writer/director Ozpetek’s measured and moving fourth feature utilises the framed openings to provide a poignant peek into the lives of three Italians separated the in the manner advised in the movie’s name, unravelling the impact that each has upon each other.
At the centre sits young housewife and mother of two, Giovanna (Giovanna Mezzogiorno, The Last Kiss), who is too preoccupied with her own life to be cognisant of the world around her. Chance encounters with two strangers – Simone (the late Massimo Girotti, Sunset in Venice), a lost elderly gentleman with no memory spied on a routine shopping trip with her husband, and Lorenzo (Raoul Bova, Under the Tuscan Sun), the handsome man who lives opposite her kitchen window – alter her outlook, when the former’s care falls into her purview, and the latter becomes her lover. Accepting both Simone and Lorenzo into her heart, she undergoes an emotional and physical transformation that alters the lives of all around her.
Mirroring the experience of those who come into contact with the frosty heroine, it is initially difficult for the audience to warm to Giovanna. She is rude to her husband, short-tempered with the children, and unkind to all. Only Simone and Lorenzo seem to evoke any compassion from her, but as their respective bonds with Giovanna grow, so does the viewer’s appreciation for the complex and well-portrayed character. Watching Mezzogiorno’s versatile and perceptive performance stand up to the task of the multifaceted role, the protagonist is imbued with nuance and authenticity, resulting in a tender and affecting portrayal of the link between the three central characters.
While Giovanna undoubtedly provides the unifying element of the feature, and therefore monopolises screen time, the mysterious yet charismatic Simone also proves a point of focus. The unravelling of the wandering soul is touching as the film remains careful with its emotional delicacy, in scenes which most effectively mirror the aforementioned Three Colours Red. In his last film role before his death, veteran Italian actor Girotti resonates with rectitude and realism, painting a complete and vivid picture of a haunted elderly gentleman unable to let go of the past.
In an offering as handsome as it is heartwarming and insightful as it is immersive, Gianfilippo Corticelli’s (Kiss Me First) expressive cinematography is also a highlight, evoking a mood and tone that perfectly captures and complements the film’s themes. With strong shades of blue as scenes are lit by moonlight, the darkened evening sky affords the perfect all-encompassing backdrop for the potent emotions explored on screen, creating an enormous sense of both distance and intimacy in alternating shots. Stunning sequences that showcase the magnificent architecture of downtown Rome also impress, with the composed shots resembling paintings rather than photography.
Introverted and contemplative in a tight but textured way, Facing Windows offers a restrained yet raw and romantic exploration of seemingly trivial but ultimately sentimental events, and the complete revolution an interlude with a stranger can bring. The atmosphere of voyeurism that pervades from the outset works to enhance the emotions uncovered as the feature unfurls; the audience observing the characters observing each other and becoming entangled in each other’s lives, only to realise that that is exactly they as viewers of the film are doing.
With equal parts emotion, intrigue and understanding, Facing Windows is a mesmerising and mysterious work, effortlessly creating a lasting impression with the audience. Complete with a thoroughly satisfying ending that remains true to the spirit of the concept and content, it proves a masterful – albeit melodramatic and coincidence-fuelled – piece of modern Italian cinema, as well as a worthy inclusion in the canon of films mentioning windows in their moniker.