Sunday, October 11, 2009

"Demand to Live in a Better World:" Moving Beyond Alterity in "Facing Windows"

Facing Windows, directed by Ferzan Ozpetek is a film won the David di Donatello awards (Italy's Oscars) in 2002. According to Dr. Patrizia LaTrecchia, Facing Windows: is ‘a love letter to the city of Rome’. Rome, the film’s protagonist, is revealed through its dark past as well as its dynamic present, rather than through its touristy sites which we all know. It is a city with many layers hidden from the casual observer: the Jewish Ghetto around the isola Tiberina, Ponte Sisto, and the area around Trastevere.

The film has two story lines that develop along two alternate time lines: there is a story with a mystery that happened in 1943, the darkest days of the war when racial laws were passed that created the Jewish Holocaust in Italy; and an intense love story, a passion that takes place in the present and that leads to an exploration of love as one of the most powerful and also disruptive forces known to man. Love is the driving force behind these two stories. The suspense in the mystery story is interwoven with the romance of the love story just like the collective and personal memories are intertwined in the narration.

Dr. La Trecchia pointed out that Facing Window’s is one of the few films of the Jewish experience in WWII that was made outside the decade of fascism. She named other films of note: The Garden of the Finzi Continis, Life is Beautiful and Sky is Falling.

The thrust of the film is discovering of history and the recovery of the mind. The absences of the story of Jews in Italy results from the overshadowing of the Jewish community by the dominant Catholic community and the now increasingly secular Italian cinema. But ultimately, it was fascism that forced Jews into a position of alterity and would exercise an impact on Jewish filmmaking in Italy.

Dr. LaTrecchia explained that there have been calls for reshaping the collective memory of the Italian people to prevent erasures and amnesia culminating in the Day of Memory in Italy in January.

She described for the audience the main character, Giovanna, as she transitions from a woman who is speechless and denies and ignors past events to one who takes part in the collective memory of the Italian community. By the story’s end, she vows to tell the story and can ‘see’ and ‘understand.’

Sheldon Wykell, MSW, LCSW asked the question, “Why is the a Holocaust film” since it does not resemble films like Shoah or Schliner’s List. He locates the answer in the biography of the director. The openly gay film director who was born in Turkey in 1959 and lived in Italy since 1977, explores the theme of the outsider. In the film, the “others” include the Jewish community in Italian culture, the black neighbor ,and David’s gayness and how he was treated as a young man. In his remarks, Mr. Wykell demonstrated how difference plays a role in how we treat each other.

Using a relational psychoanalytic framework, Mr. Wykell, stressed the importance of being seen and seeing others. In Facing Windows, seeing someone does not make for real contact. Giovanna is enamored with Lorenzo until she sees her family in the window adjacent to her home and longs to return to her family. The relationship with the most significance in the film was that of Giovanna and David. At the beginning of the film, Giovanna is having a hard time relating to people. She is angry most of the time and one point of resentment is that she had no parents in contrast to Fillipo having a mother who could offer assistance to the struggling family.

As for David, Mr. Wykell observed that a part of him had never been fulfilled and he cared very much about being a father to a little girl, especially a spiritual daughter who is also a pastry chef. Mr. Wykell cautioned against getting caught up in stereotypes. If we are going to connect he noted, we have to be open to who a person is, and not who we think they are. David is a caring man and proves it through all the cakes he can make to nourish other people.

Both David and Giovanna take care of others, to their own detriment. In his lucid momemtns he regrets having sacrificed his lover to recoup his own honor with his people and hence sacrificing his own happiness; he warns Giovanna against making the same mistake. Through her connection to David, she is transformed and can relate in a way that was impossible for her before.

In a final answer to his question, “Why is this a Holocaust film?” Mr. Wykell concluded that the film is about people’s ability to love each other and to connect and truly see each other. “What could represent a complete failure of that, then the Holocaust?”
Audience members asked the following questions:

What could we attribute Fillipo’s crying to? While one audience member felt that he was concerned about losing his meal ticket, the majority agreed that he was overwhelmed by his wife’s new ability to connect with him.
Other questions included: “Why would the director wait so long to unveil the reason for the murder at the end of the film?” Why would a Turk become interested in making a film about Jews and the Holocaust, since it is easier to write from who you are? Is there any significance to the two running scenes, the first at the beginning of the film and the second toward the end of the film?

Audience members raised the following issues:

The special relationship David and Jonnathan invoked in the film is not an accident.

The saying “never forget” is invoked through the film when Giovanna opened the windows and the past began to inform her. In denial, we shut out and close our mind to reality. By the end of the movie, Giovanna has developed the capacity to tell David that he is with her, thus stating the theme of the movie that those not physically present are with us and help with the process of grieving and going on.

One audience member found the film’s ending to be optimistic. With Giovanni’s daughter seeking to make her mother proud at the personal level, to the historical level in which the Italian community remembers what went before, to the developmental milestones of a) David’s love of his people versus love of his individual partner; b) Giovanna’s love of her family versus the love of Lorenzo; to the concrete achievements of the characters with Fillip getting on the day shift and Giovanna becoming a pastry chef—the film signals growth and transformation.

Patrizia La Trecchia is Assistant Professor of Italian and serves as Director of the Italian Program at the University of South Florida in Tampa, FL. She received a Ph.D. in Italian Studies and Comparative Literature from the University of Pennsylvania. Her research interests include film studies, cultural studies, migration studies, Italian-American studies, and the impact of globalization on cultural representation of Italian identity. Her works include publications on Italian and European film, music and globalization, Italian literature and theatre, and audiovisual translation. In 2009, she published a film study textbook on the film Il Postino [The Postman]. She is completing a book-length manuscript on the idea of the Italian South, focusing specifically on the representative case study of the contemporary city of Naples. Her articles on Italian and European film, popular culture and globalization, theatre, food and identity, modern and contemporary Italian literature, audiovisual translation, and migration have appeared, or are about to appear, in Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, Studies in European Cinema, Cinemasessanta, Italian Americana, Rivista di Letteratura Italiana, Studi sul Settecento e l’Ottocento, and Perspectives: Studies in Translatology.

Sheldon Wykell, MSW, LCSW graduated from the Jane Addams School of Social Work at the University of Illinois Chicago. While at the Jewish Family Service in Chicago he directed Chicago office of HIAS, the immigrant resettlement program that historically has sponsored and managed the resettlement of Jews in America for over 100 years including before, during and after the Holocaust. He is the former Executive Director of Jewish Family Service of Sarasota-Manatee and former Director of a program for child-on-child sexual abuse for the Child Protection Center in Sarasota. He has 35 years in the field of clinical social work and social services administration. His clinical practice includes work with a wide range of clients in individual and group therapy including couples, families, children, elderly, and chronically mentally ill. Currently in private practice in downtown St. Petersburg.

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