Ferzan Ozpetek has a new film, “Facing Windows,” that continues flexible view of sexuality
We were sitting in the bar of Essex House the other afternoon—film director Ferzan Ozpetek, his star Filippo Nigro, their translator, and me—all munching on wasabi peas and sloshing down coffee.
Between tongue burnings, I asked, “Because you’re openly homosexual, Ferzan, have Italian gay activists made you a spokesperson? Do people call you up on every gay issue?”
“Who says I live as an openly gay man?” the 45-year-old filmmaker responded.
I waved a handful of articles I’d printed off the Internet.
“I’m joking, of course,” Ozpetek, a Turkish immigrant living in Italy, said with a laugh. “I’m just very much against labels. For example, in my life, I’ve been with many women as well as with many men. I had a relationship for five years with a woman. I like to politically declare myself as being gay. I accept being labeled politically as gay. Yet at the same time, I don’t believe in the word ‘homosexuality’ as I also do not believe in the word ‘heterosexuality.’ Who can guarantee you are only going to be with women or men in your life?”
Ozpetek’s films are all imbued with this philosophy.
In “Steam: The Turkish Bath” (1998), a married Italian architect inherits a bathhouse in Istanbul, goes there to sell it, and winds up falling in love with a young man.
In 2001’s “His Secret Life” (also known as “Ignorant Fairies”), a happily married man crosses the street only to get run over by two cars traveling in opposite directions. His distraught wife learns her spouse was leading a double life. He had a male lover plus a whole bunch of transvestite pals. They quickly become the widow’s new family.
Now in “Facing Windows,” a young woman who’s a poultry inspector with two kids and a lackadaisical hubby (Nigro) finds her life change for the better when an elderly, Jewish homosexual chef with Alzheimer’s Disease winds up moving into her apartment initially against her will. Nominated for 12 Italian Oscars, the film went home with Best Film, Best Actress, Best Actor, and Best Music.
But then winning awards is nothing new for Ozpetek.
Being in and out of love is nothing new either. His longest relationship with man, an open one, lasted 20 years. Two years later he was with another chap.
“This is a very private fact about my life. Of course, I’ve told you I’ve been with more than two people in my life,” he conceded reluctantly.
“Not to dwell on the mattress, but do you need to be in love to create? Or can you create when you’re in pain or between loves?” I asked.
“When I made ‘His Secret Life,’” Ozpetek recalled, “I wasn’t in a relationship, and it was a hard time for me. But that time was also a very fun time, and the movie expressed that. When I made ‘Facing Windows,’ I was in a relationship, and it was a very secure tranquil time in my life. But the world around me was falling apart, and so I made a very dark movie instead.”
Do you think you’ll ever get married?
“No, I’ve had enough. I’ve given my share.”
Moving away from the personal, we chat about whether Italy is having a gay revolution like America is.
“Of course in Italy, the same changes have come about,” Ozpetek insisted, “but of course that’s because it’s a global change. There is no more national world. It’s a global world now, and so, unfortunately, we’ve become this global culture. I don’t know if this is a change for the better or a change for the worse. I just know that it has changed. Consequently, Italians talk about fighting for gay rights. But instead they should be talking about a person’s rights. For example, I have a housecleaner who was living with an elderly woman for decades. They weren’t lovers. They weren’t lesbians, but when one woman died, the remaining woman became homeless. She had no rights to the pension from the other woman. This is an example of why we should be fighting for people’s rights. There should be a bill of rights for people who are living together. That would be ideal.”
Will all his films deal with homosexual experiences?
Ozpetek pondered for a second, then replied, “In the film, I’m working on now as of yet, there’s no gay character so I’m thinking of using gay film stock.”
Will it have a purple tinge?
“No, let’s not assign any colors to this.”
To be polite, I blushingly turned to the Filippo Nigro with his sculptured physique, and noted that he looks younger in person.
“That’s because I got married. In real life,” he replied.
“In ‘Facing Windows,’ you play a spouse whose wife falls for another man. At any time, did you think you were too attractive for the part?” I asked. “Did you ever look into a mirror and wonder aloud, ‘How could a woman ever fall out of love with me?’”
Nigro laughed then replied in Italian, “No. I never did that because I don’t consider myself to be such a great looking man.”
After registering shock, I asked, “Moving to your body, do you have to work it hard to keep it in such prime condition?”
“You know, it’s funny that you brought this up,” Nigro said, smiling broadly. “First of all, Ferzan didn’t want me to have a sculpted body even though that’s my type of physique to begin with. He said he wanted me to be more like a family man who has a little bit of gully. I remember when I was in acting school, I was in very good shape. I was an athlete. Well, all the teachers said to me, ‘You’re too muscular. You’re too worked out.’ So they actually got me to lose some of that musculature and not be such a sculpted-looking body. But when I left acting school, I went into the real world of working actors. There I saw that all the actors did indeed have sculpted bodies and looked more like models than actors. So I gained it all back.”