Beautiful Strangers

Giovanna (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) ekes out one of those lives of quiet desperation. She dreamed of becoming a pastry chef and had to settle for toiling at a chicken factory. Prickly and overworked, the 29-year-old resides in a noisy housing block in Rome, where she returns each day to yappy brats and her feckless husband, Filippo (Filippo Nigro), who has trouble holding down a job. Super-duper lucky for Giovanna, then, that one day the bickering couple spots a confused elderly man (Massimo Girotti) in the street who becomes their temporary guest. Davide, as he's eventually known, is a Holocaust survivor who suffers from progressive senile dementia, but his appearance readily catalyzes not only Giovanna's attraction to the handsome bachelor whose apartment she can see from her kitchen window (hence the title), but also her vocational aspirations: turns out Davide was once a renowned pastry chef!

A few laborious camera tricks facilitate the occasional mingling of 1940s Rome and the contemporary city, as Davide—sometimes delusional, sometimes mournfully lucid—finds himself drawn back to the staging grounds of his doomed romance with a man named Simone. (Director Ferzan Ozpetek's previous feature, His Secret Life, also hinged in part on a semi-clandestine homosexual relationship.) Facing Windowsblends past and present to draw some utterly stupefying parallels: Giovanna's longing for a forbidden affair somehow squares with the predicament of gay Jewish lovers in 1943 Europe? Davide's all-consuming remorse—that he couldn't save Simone from a concentration camp—sorta-kinda lines up with Giovanna's regret that she doesn't bake cakes for a living?

Ozpetek, who co-wrote the screenplay with Gianni Romoli, fares best at home; despite bulky exposition (Giovanna telling her own husband that she didn't have parents, etc.), the director ably captures the drudgery, clamor and snatches of affection that make up Giovanna's day-to-day blur. Mezzogiorno (who so memorably unleashed the furies as a woman betrayed in Gabriele Muccino's The Last Kiss) brings formidable smoky-eyed intensity to the role of Giovanna, who wants to change her circumstances without forsaking all she already has. It's a scary, heroic task, but one made ridiculous by the film's presumptuous lungings toward world-historical import. FACING WINDOWS WAS DIRECTED BY FERZAN OZPETEK; WRITTEN BY OZPETEK AND GIANNI ROMOLI; PRODUCED BY ROMOLI AND TILDE CORSI. IT'S THE SECOND OF THREE FILMS IN UNIVERSITY SYNAGOGUE'S 15TH ANNUAL ORANGE COUNTY JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL AT EDWARDS BIG NEWPORT, 300 NEWPORT CENTER DR., NEWPORT BEACH, (949) 553-3535. SUN. BAGEL BREAKFAST, 8:30 A.M.; FILM PRESENTED BY SCREENWRITER/PSYCHOLOGIST MICHAEL BERLIN, 9:30 A.M.; Q&A FOLLOWS. $25 PER SCREENING (INCLUDES BREAKFAST BECAUSE, LOOK AT YOU, YOU'VE GOT TO EAT SOMETHING).

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