Rarely has voyeurism been shown to possess such exquisitely melancholy beauty as is displayed in tyro helmer Paolo Franchi’s stunning “Spectator.” Aided by Giuseppe Lanci’s atmospheric, nearly hypnotic lensing and Barbara Bobulova’s delicate, somnambulistic performance, this story of a woman who slowly becomes obsessed by her neighbor — drawn closer and closer despite herself — exerts a magnetic fascination of its own. Like Matteo Garrone’s “Embalmer,” “Spectator” draws the viewer into a life lived obliquely, but here, perhaps as befits a female voyeur, entirely in the passive tense. With savvy handling, pic should lure curious arthouse auds.
Valeria (Bobulova), who works as a simultaneous interpreter, shares her Turin apartment with a girlfriend. Through her rear window, she can see into the lit portals of the solitary man across the way (Andrea Renzi) and can watch him as he talks on the phone or plays with his dog. She seems content to live on the fringes of experience, wandering alone though the arcaded streets of the city, frequenting a disco for an occasional one-night stand.
But when the man she has been watching, Massimo, enters her world directly (first in need of assistance for his sick dog and later in regard to a translation), her curiosity grows into outright compulsion. When Massimo suddenly moves to Rome, Valeria drops everything to follow.
Once in Rome, Valeria forges a relationship with Massimo’s somewhat older girlfriend Flavia (French thesp Brigette Catillon, dubbed into Italian by Licia Maglietta), and a lopsided, shifting triangle forms. Valeria tries to sidestep direct contact with Massimo, but as she avoids his gaze, keeping her distance, Massimo begins to be intrigued with her. Soon it is Massimo standing behind glass windows looking out at Valeria, instead of the other way around.
Helmer Franchi creates an odd complicity with his heroine by fudging the cause of the interpersonal crisscrossings he choreographs. Is it psychotic fixation or romantic coincidence?
Just when Franchi seems to be going down familiar generic paths, he veers away from expected dramatic developments. “Spectator” flirts with the noir thriller angle, but events signally refuse to spiral into darkness. Similarly, pic provides little in the way of a psychological case study of obsession, since Valeria herself is as bemused by her behavior as the viewer. In its compositionally dynamic, trance-like walkabouts through Turin and Rome, pic’s major generic resemblance is to the meditative moodiness of arthouse staples by the likes of Kieslowski and Antonioni.
Somehow, the spectacle of people poised on thresholds, turning lights on or off as they enter or exit abstract yet private cubicles proves strangely compelling, tantamount to a “Rear Window” with no murder and no subplots.