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Saturday
Jan042014

La finestra di fronte

The plainness of bourgeois existence should not frighten us away from the simpler joys of life.  Family, dinner parties, strolls in the park, the anxieties and fatigue of making a small group of people get along at all times – all these we should not be so hasty to dismiss in place of the liberties of an artist's solitary path.  It is perhaps good to have walked both roads before commenting on the shortcomings of the one not chosen; it is imperative to have done so before addressing its benefits.  For better or worse, the option of commitment will be the most palpable among the world's citizens because family remains our basic unit, our basic means of reconnoitring the vast terrains of unknown futures.  An old quandary, surely, but one that can be broached in a multitude of fashions, as in this film.

We shall return to our first scene, which is granted a date but not a place; the second scene, however, is set in contemporary Rome.  Here a young couple, Filippo (Filippo Nigro) and Giovanna (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) are found walking in dissatisfied silence after, we learn, another public outburst of her anger.  A quick analysis of their subsequent conversation will reveal all the necessary parts of their relationship: Giovanna cannot tolerate a discourtesy while waiting in line, nor the fact that the cashier made an example of her; at the same time, she finds that an embarrassing number of her fellow Italians instinctively treat foreigners like criminals.  Filippo, on the other hand, has little truck with such profundities and simply wants his wife to behave like a civilized human being.  On the last bridge before reaching their car Filippo vanishes from our screen – the cinematic point-of-view is almost exclusively Giovanna's – only to turn up by the side of a dapper elderly gentleman (Massimo Girotti) looking more than a bit confused.  Rightly convinced that the man is an amnesiac, Filippo proposes taking him home until he recovers.  Or, at least, until he can be escorted to the local police presidium for a report.  We are hardly surprised when Giovanna tries to extricate herself from the situation, but less stunned when we arrive at the couple's apartment and behold her two children and snooping neighbors.  Children, of course, are often much more open-minded about bringing a stranger to dinner, if only because they have yet to become mistrustful of good Samaritanship and the warped societal regulations that oblige us to protect ourselves from every outsider regardless of his intentions.  The old man eats but still cannot recall data as fundamental as his name or house address, and so to Giovanna's great chagrin his registration is postponed until the next morning.  In fact, Giovanna shows herself to be so irascible, petulant, and completely unlikeable that we wonder where on earth she derived such self-loathing.  And it is precisely at that point that her and our eyes stray to the open window across the street.

Across the street in terrifying proximity lives a very handsome young banker, Lorenzo (Raoul Bova).  That Giovanna's eyes locate him out of habit rather than sudden interest is supported by a comment from her closest friend and neighbor, Eminè.  The longing that Giovanna's looks betray is combated by her pastry creations which she sells to a pub to supplement her meager income as an accountant and Filippo's "continuous firings" – and here is where her old houseguest begins to come alive.  He has told the children his name is Simone, and without remembering any other particulars he has managed to cook the family crepes.  With these facts in hand, the perspicacious viewer will return to our opening scene in a Rome bakery many decades ago.  It is a scene of inexplicable violence, but one made rational by the time and place, a suspension of all good acts in favor of endless evils and mass perdition.  Simone's vivacity is matched only by his expertise and he counsels Giovanna on tap water, her smoking, and her unfortunate choice not to pursue her dream of opening a pastry shop.  These solemn pieces of advice Giovanna accepts – a stark contrast to her prior rantings to Filippo about Simone's endangering the children – and that same night she and Simone go to the pub.  From afar, as if wondering whether he could ever come any closer, she espies Lorenzo alone on a barstool and, at the same time, completely loses track of the old man.  As she turns to leave, her banker is standing before her very eyes.  They talk in awkward, unfinished thoughts as if in a dream, and we learn that he is very different from her husband – well-dressed, subdued, sensitive to detail.  But when he mentions "her grandfather," they begin a modest search for Simone that reveals aspects of his past all too obvious to readers of fiction (the hallucinatory conversations and collapse in front of a shuttered store being the least subtle) – and we will stop our game of handy-dandy right about here.

Though these developments will hardly shock or amaze, small notes resound that are less predictable, including Eminè's advice about Lorenzo, Simone's real ability, and a few scenes interspersed that augment, for lack of a better term, the film's historical flavor.  However you may feel about such melodrama, and there persist well-worn aspects to this approach, the story moves slowly and truly as if we were assured of each detail's proper category.  When Lorenzo calls Giovanna well out of eyeshot, she still instinctively undoes and fusses with her ponytail; when Giovanna finds a letter by Simone on her kitchen table she does the natural thing and thinks little of its privacy; and when she decides to indulge in the luxury of quitting her job, Filippo, who barely makes ends meet at a gas station and has lost numerous work opportunities, feels like an even greater failure.  As it were, the most cumbrous component of the whole equation turns out to be Lorenzo, whom Giovanna can visit to her heart's and body's content thanks to Filippo's night shift and general obliviousness as if he were indeed the man of her dreams.  Lorenzo doesn't make sense the way our ideals, material or emotional, never quite correspond to what we really need – which is what is so nice about such a movie.  The husband of the bored wife is never painted as a bad man; he is, in fact, a good father, a kind person, and although somewhat of an underachiever, his heart lies very much in the right place.  The ending then seems quite correct in keeping with the tone of the film, which is neither one of hope, nor of self-betterment, nor of passion.  It is one of responsibility – of distinguishing right from wrong, overcoming personal injustices to fight greater evils, and abiding by the choices one makes, even if those choices are fatiguing and dull.  And it does not give away too much by including Simone's mournful words, "it must be wonderful to watch love grow, love that started only as passion, to protect it from time."  After all, time does not need to conquer us wholly and completely.

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