A dual-era, transhousehold think piece with a lopsided enigmatic structure, the Italian import Facing Windows undermines its central mystery while posing another: "What in God's name is this film trying to say?" Greatest-generation regret meets modern-day wanderlust in director/co-writer Ferzan Ozpetek's inconsistent exercise in parallelism; to the viewer, finding an ideological main vein between Ozpetek's twin thema is tougher than divining the secrets his script too easily spills.
It's mostly up to the actors and cinematographer Gianfilippo Corticelli's precise, intimate visuals to preserve the interest factor. Massimo Girotti embodies dignified befuddlement as the movie's shadowy central figure, an aged amnesiac found wandering the streets of Rome and brought home for safekeeping by a bitterly squabbling married couple (Filippo Nigro, Giovanna Mezzogiorno). Haunted by World War II memories he can't or won't explain, this human cipher he eventually lets slip that his name is Simone is a thorn in the side of the patience-deficient Giovanna. (Both Mezzogiorno and Nigro play characters who share their real-life first names.) As she reminds hubby Filippo at every opportunity, she can't wait to be rid of her unwanted guest.
Yet as time passes, Giovanna develops her own interest in Simone, whose inexplicable talent for baking neatly dovetails with her own thwarted dream of becoming a pastry chef. She's instead stuck working in a chicken factory and slinging tarts on the side. And with Filippo a virtual nonpresence due to his night-shift job, Giovanna who is not only married but a mother of two finds a new partner to help her solve the riddle of Simone's past. A plucky gal pal, perhaps? Nope. It's Lorenzo (Raoul Bova), the bespectacled hunk of a neighbor she's been watching with lustful eyes for some time. Uh oh.
For some reason, Ozpetek squanders the ideal plot tentpole that is Simone's obscured history, revealing the nature of his lingering anguish far too early and leaving us no sleuthing activity beyond the divining of specific details. That's not the way these things are supposed to work. Misspending such vital story collateral denies the cast a proper platform for its mostly sturdy talents, and it also points up the script's detours into triviality: Giovanna's baked-goods obsession suggests an ersatz Chocolat with Holocaust-survival overtones, and there's no accounting for the sympathy we're supposed to feel as her flirtation with Lorenzo strikes the expected sparks. Her character is given no good reason to indulge any adulterous impulse beyond a bratty dissatisfaction with Filippo's breadwinning abilities.
Yet one can't help but infer that Ozpetek is striving to set up an equation between Giovanna's juvenile stabs at fulfillment and the genuine horrors Simone has been through. If the earnest but muddled Facing Windows has a message, it appears to be this: Enduring World War II was tough, but staying true to your family when you'd rather screw Clark Kent and make pastries is no picnic, either. Call me shortsighted, but I fail to see the correspondence.