Pras on WorldFilms: THE DOUBLE HOUR (“La Doppia Ora”)

The Double Hour ImageThe Double Hour is at once a stark romance, a touching psychological thriller, and a story about possibilities. Sonia (Ksenia Rappoport) and Guido (Filippo Timi) might be the two loneliest people in the Italian city of Turin. A penniless maid and a chilly ex-cop, they each go about their daily routines like ghosts, both tormented by mistakes and loss from their individual pasts, unable to truly move forward with their lives in any meaningful way. But, when the two meet for the first time in the grimmest of settings—a schmaltzy speed dating event—wary flirtation blooms into desperate passion. Only a single, shocking incident, an ill-timed robbery, threatens to destroy the salvation that Sonia and Guido so quickly find in each other. La doppia ora: A second chance, a magical moment when a person makes a wish, hoping against hope for a better life, for love, for redemption. But, is wishing, as Guido suggests, only a game?  Winner of 3 awards at the Venice International Film Festival (Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Italian Film).

Romance or Film Noir? Both, and a Thriller   By STEPHEN HOLDEN

Attention armchair sleuths: After viewing the Italian psychological thriller “The Double Hour,” you may want to see it a second or even a third time to decipher its secrets. The movie, which won its stars, Ksenia Rappoport and Filippo Timi, awards at the 2009 Venice Film Festival, will put mystery bloodhounds on a scent that after about the 20-minute mark is suddenly lost.       

                    At that point, the story slips into a parallel reality that may or not be the dream life of a woman in a coma. The scent can be picked up again in the third act, when “The Double Hour” snaps back to the former reality, or what looks like it, as its heroine, Sonia (Ms. Rappoport), regains consciousness in a hospital after a traumatic shooting.       

                    The title of “The Double Hour,” the feature debut of Giuseppe Capotondi, a successful music-video director, refers to the moment on a digital watch when the numbers of the hour and the minute are identical, say 23:23. If your eyes happen to catch those numbers, you can make a wish, declares Sonia’s boyfriend, Guido (Mr. Timi), a former policeman turned security guard whom she meets at a speed-dating club. A gadget freak who perfected a shotgun microphone, Guido runs an elaborate security system at a lavish gated estate whose owner is rarely there.       

                    How the superstition plays out is only a teasing embellishment to a movie split into parts that only a vigilant detective could piece together. Not to give anything away, but two clues you might miss involve a red bedspread and an enigmatic priest. Yet if, like me, you would rather get lost in a noir than try to second-guess its creators, “The Double Hour” is the best movie of its kind since the French director Guillaume Canet’s hit from 2006, “Tell No One.”

Ms. Rappoport’s strong resemblance to Monica Vitti, who exhibited a similar mixture of anxiety, vulnerability and wariness in Michelangelo Antonioni’s films, adds another layer of uneasiness. Sonia has recently moved from Slovenia to Turin, Italy, where she works as a chambermaid in an upscale hotel. Early in the movie, a young woman in a room she is cleaning commits suicide by jumping out the window.       

                    Mr. Timi’s Guido, a soulful-eyed widower of three years, bears as strong a resemblance to Javier Bardem (with touches of the younger Al Pacino). Guido is an avid consumer of speed-dating sessions, which usually lead to dreary one-night stands.       

                    When he meets Sonia, she seems softer and shyer than the typical hard-boiled speed date, and their storybook romance purrs along, despite an early speed bump. While they are walking on the street one evening, a police car squeals to a stop, and an officer demands identification from Guido, to which he responds with profanity. Just as violence seems inevitable, the men fall into a bear hug; the officer, Dante (Michele Di Mauro), who reappears later, and Guido turn out to be old friends.       

                    The first act ends with a shock. Sonia and Guido, while on a romantic woodland stroll in the back of the estate where he works, are approached by masked robbers who tie them up, drive two large trucks through the gates and ransack the place of its art treasures. When one of the robbers (Gaetano Bruno) threatens to rape Sonia, Guido frantically struggles to stop him, and a gun goes off, the bullet killing Guido and grazing Sonia’s forehead. The movie cuts away from the crime scene so abruptly that you can’t determine exactly what happened.       

                    From here, “The Double Hour,” written by Alessandro Fabbri, Ludovica Rampoldi and Stefano Sardo, never lets up. The genres that the movie touches as it progresses — romance, horror thriller, post-Freudian psychological puzzle and film noir — overlap and melt into one another. The middle section, in which the semi-recovered Sonia returns to work, distracted and anxious after three days of unconsciousness, finds her (and the audience) adrift in a limbo that recalls James Stewart’s obsessive trance in “Vertigo.”       

                    “The Double Hour” might be described as Hitchcockian in the glee with which it puts Sonia in harm’s way, and she seems to be stalked by a ghost she both fears and desires. The movie’s final images are reminiscent of “Body Heat.”       

With its extremely tight editing and breakneck pace, “The Double Hour” is strung through with small jolts that may or may not be leads in a circuitous pursuit of the truth. That truth, when revealed, leaves you wishing for an extra 20 minutes of diabolical mind games; you don’t want it to end.       

Director:  Giuseppe Capotondi

Cast:  Ksenia Rappoport, Filippo Timi, Antonia Truppo, Gaetano Bruno, Fausto Russo, Alesi, Michele Di Mauro, Lorenzo Gioielli, Lidia Vitale, Giampiero Iudica, Roberto Accornero, Lucia Poli, Giorgio Colangeli

The Double Hour  by director Giuseppe Capotondi

Although I am Italian, I can’t say my cinematic taste was educated by Antonioni, Fellini or the masters of neorealism (whom I discovered later). I started to go to the movies in the ‘80s and my idea of Cinema was Italian Giallo, that weird, anarchic, sexy genre that mixed crime story, film noir, horror, erotica and psychological thriller (yes, all together). Directors like Argento, Barilli, Damiani, Bava—they were my heroes. What they were making was truly post-modern cinema, the most original Italian product to date. Then, for the same reason dinosaurs disappeared (basically they were too over the top and all over the place), it all ended. Unfortunately, in the last 20 years, little has been made to try to revamp this genre.  I hope The Double Hour can be one of those isolated cases trying to do that, although when you make a film, your only worry is really that the film will work per se, not necessarily as the Viagra for an aging film genre.

Regardless, it was a lot of fun to make, especially thanks to two incredible actors such as Ksenia Rappoport and Filippo Timi, whose amazing talent is only paired by their indication. Call it freshman’s luck, but I couldn’t have been more fortunate.

MPAA Rating:  NR

Run Time:  1hr 36mins

Release Year:  2009

Country Of Origin:  Italy

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