Dir: Ferzan Ozpetek. It/UK/Turkey/Port. 2003. 105mins.

Ferzan Ozpetek is one of the few contemporary Italian directors who manages to straddle the arthouse-commercial divide. Born in Turkey, the director drew strongly on Anatolian themes in his first two films, The Turkish Bath (1997) and Harem Suare (1999), but with his last, 2001's successful and exportable The Ignorant Fairies, he returned to his home territory of contemporary Rome. The film also scored well at the Italian box office, taking a strong $8.3m (Euros 7.7m). Facing Windows (La Finestra Di Fronte) stays in the same suburban milieu and grafts onto the lives of these hassled apartment dwellers a similarly florid tale of repressed emotions and closely-guarded secrets. But despite earnest acting by Giovanna Mezzogiorno and Filippo Nigro, and a fine swansong performance by Massimo Girotti, who died just after shooting wrapped, the plot is too loaded with signifiers (the Holocaust, homosexuality, immigration and intensive chicken farming all get a look-in) to hang together.

Still, as modern melodramas go, Facing Windows is well crafted enough to last a few weeks on the 200-screen rollout planned by Italian distributor Mikado this Friday. Its overseas prospects are less certain: the loose and rather flabby story has none of the remake potential of Ignorant Fairies.

The foundation to the film's elaborate sub-plots is the marriage of Giovanna (Mezzogiorno) and Filippo (Nigro). Prey to the usual stresses (two small kids, high-density apartment life, juggling the monthly accounts), this young couple are also strained by the fact that it is the wife - who works in a poultry processing factory - who is the main breadwinner, while her husband has a series of low-paid night jobs. Giovanna's main emotional outlet is her secret observation of a young single man (Italian heartthrob Raoul Bova) who lives in the flat opposite.

One day, the couple come across a well-dressed old guy (Girotti) who has lost his memory; against Giovanna's wishes, Filippo decides to take him in until they can find out where he lives. This is the trigger for a juggling plot that, in trying to keep so many balls in the air, drops more than one.

Gianfilippo Corticelli's inventive widescreen cinematography is at its best in a couple of Rear Window homages - especially one scene in which reflections on the glass complement and comment on a strange, third-person declaration of love which Giovanna's neighbour makes over the phone, while both are observing each other across the condominial void. The soundtrack veers from ultra-classical strings to electronic-based piano melodies, capped by a saleable theme tune by contemporary Italian torch singer Giorgia.

There are also some accurately gauged scenes of modern emotional malaise, and some nice comic touches associated especially with Giovanna's tell-it-like-it-is best friend and colleague Emine, played by Turkish actress Serra Yilmaz. But Facing Windows is a film of promising parts rather than a satisfying whole. Never has the line 'I want to work in a cake shop', delivered by Giovanna, been delivered with such passion; but by this stage, towards the end, audiences are likely to have had rather too much of Opetek's rich and somewhat indigestible pavlova.

Prod cos: R&C Produzioni, Mikado
Int'l sales: R&C Produzioni
It dist:
Tilde Corsi, Gianni Romoli
Gianni Romoli, Ozpetek
Gianfilippo Corticelli
Prod des:
Andrea Crisanti
Patrizio Marone
Andrea Guerra
Main cast:
Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Massimo Girotti, Raoul Bova, Filippo Nigro, Serra Yilmaz