Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Fri Jul 23, 2004 12:04 am 
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Pastry

The Turkish-born Ferzan Ozpotek has been an assistant director and more recently a full-fledged director in Italy over the past twenty years. His latest effort, Facing Windows (La finestra di fronte), whips up fine pastry making, the Holocaust, and reminiscences of a gay love affair into a creamy telenovela romance. Into this Italian confection he has stirred The Last Kiss’s earthy beauty, Gabriela Mezzogiorno, adding a male fashion model type with stylish glasses called Lorenzo -- Raoul Bova, who has done this sort of thing before. He was also Marcello, the boyfriend who didn’t work out for Diane Lane in Under the Tuscan Sun. He has current version of the handsome Italian man look. For easier identification from a distance this time, since he’s first seen through a window across a courtyard, he also has the stylish glasses. And to show he’s serious, he’s been made a lawyer. These details are added like icing on a cake.

As the main action gets started (following a colorful opening flashback whose explanation is lightly dabbed on later), life for Gabriela isn’t romantic at all. She’s saddled with a pottymouthed girlfriend, a job as a bookkeeper at a disgusting chicken slaughterhouse, a couple of kids (including a daughter who’s insufferably wise), and a macho loser husband, (Filippo Nigro) who’s perpetually out of work. Filippo has a shaved head, à la Bruce Willis. The lonely Lorenzo and the beleaguered Gabriela snatch longing glances at each other through the facing windows.

But before the inevitable coming together of the two pretty people Mr. Ozpotek stirs in a dash of unexpected flavor in the form of an old man Gabriela and Filippo rescue off the street who’s forgotten everything except a name, Simone (he's played by the late Massimo Girotti, who died shortly after the film was made). Since this is an Italian film of the new, sanitized type, Simone (who later turns out to be Davide), despite his senile behavior, is well dressed and behaves impeccably. He doesn’t mess himself when he sleeps on the sofa, and though noncommittal, to put it mildly, he’s always polite. Lorenzo steps in to help with Davide, which is how he and Giovanna get friendly.

Simone turns out to be the name of Davide’s one true love (from a time fifty years ago referred to in the opening flashback), and Simone – I said this was a confection – turns out to be a famous pastry maker who saved a lot of Jews from Rome’s ghetto during the war. It’s really all too cutesy, gay-friendly, politically correct and complicated to explain. If Ozpotek succeeds in selling you this story, you’re a certifiable victim of the new Italian cinema, where everything is safe and predigested and the best decisions are always the most conventional ones. Hence after a fling that never quite gets off the ground, Gabriella decides not to run off with Lorenzo, but to stick with Filippo, quit her job at the chicken factory, and seek her true love: pastry cooking. Like Gabriele Muccino’s casts, the actors in Ozpotek’s Facing Windows do better work than the contrived screenplay deserves.

If you enter the theater thinking the spying-on-the-windows theme hints at something edgy and Hitchcockian, you’ll be sadly disappointed. If you think this is sophisticated viewing and in impeccable taste, try paying closer attention to the schmaltzy soundtrack full of Douglas Sirk surges. In Ozpotek’s previous offering, Hammam: The Turkish Bath (1997) the use of a Turkish setting, with Italian actors including the handsome Alessandro Gassman, son of Vittorio, and homoerotic bathing scenes, didn’t hide the sketchy plot and superficial character development. The same weaknesses are evident in Facing Windows. This director seems content with idea rather than substance, and whatever complexity or depth this film has are his wishful thinking. One wonders this time how an old man who has wandered around the streets forgetting his own name can, once returned home, remember the ingredients and baking techniques for the roomful of splendid pastries he shows off to Gabriella and claims to have just produced. Perhaps Mr. Ozpotek could try cooking up something simpler but more solid next time.

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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