There’s an entire post- Usual Suspects/Memento genre of card-trick movies that wears me down past my last nerve. At their worst, it feels like certain filmmakers are so busy arranging the furniture to rip the rug out from under the audience, they seem to forget all about the basic satisfactions of a well-told story and compelling characters. You’ll often leave the theatre feeling cheated, your emotional investment betrayed by movie-negating twists that reveal the past two hours to have been a con and a lie, more clever than smart. (In many circles this disease has been dubbed “Shyamalan-ism.”)
So what a surprise and delight then is first-timer Giuseppe Capotondi’s The Double Hour. At least structurally, I guess some will scoff that it’s just a gimmick. But this particular gimmick exhibits such a rich, melancholy soul, boasting a sympathetic depth of characterization that’s almost unheard of for this kind of picture. Most importantly, no matter how much you might feel jerked around while it’s chugging along, the movie eventually plays fair in the end. Capotondi is clever at every turn—but we care about these people, and he refuses to betray our trust. That’s not just clever, it’s smart.
Lanky, sad-eyed Ksenia Rappoport stars as Sonia, a put-upon chambermaid at a fancy hotel, who recently wound up in Turin under unexplained circumstances. There’s a watchful stillness to her performance, weary from things that were perhaps better not seen. Rappoport is the kind of actress who knows she doesn’t have to give you much, because if she doesn’t you’ll keep looking closer.
Fillipo Timi (who recently played two generations of Mussolini’s in Marco Bellocchio’s Vincere ) co-stars as Guido. Carrying himself like a thinner, more beat-down Alfred Molina, he’s an ex-cop on the skids, reduced to working as a security guard at an absurdly over-decorated mansion. Information in The Double Hour is parceled out slowly, in almost maddening, elliptical intervals. We surmise that Guido’s trying awfully hard not to drink these days, charming countless ladies at depressing singles outings, killing his evenings with bouts of cold, anonymous sex.
But on their three-minute, hastily arranged “speed date,” something mysterious clicks between Guido and Sonia. She’s not like the others, and Capotondi handles their tentative interactions gorgeously. Here are two kindred, broken spirits not quite ready to reveal themselves just yet. But we can see that they’re getting closer. The body language between Rappoport and Timi is a marvel to behold—as the film wears on, you can feel their boundaries slipping away.
The Double Hour takes its title from an old Italian suspicion of Guido’s—when it’s 11:11 you have to make a wish. He’s also wise enough to know that such wishes don’t come true, and roughly a third of the way into this movie a shocking act of violence sends it spinning in not one, but two different directions.
I must tread lightly here, especially because part of what thrilled me was the all too rare sensation of never knowing where the picture was headed next. Suffice it to say, Capotondi isn’t afraid to take a hard left turn into supernatural ghost-story territory, brilliantly helming a few giallo-styled sequences, using only a long lens and the faded echoes of a Cure song to make a bathtub feel like the most frightening place in the world. Familiar lines of dialogue are repeated by disparate characters with a dream-like, nagging familiarity, and the movie itself seems to hover between this life and the next, employing increasingly surreal flourishes to a slightly wearying extent.
But like the pulp cousin to Certified Copy, The Double Hour also exists in two places at once, making sure to stay grounded in emotional truth. The bifurcated back-half fills in both of our main characters the way a straightforward telling of this story never quite could. When all is said and done, Capotondi has discovered a rather ingenious way to illustrate the inner life of an extremely elusive character.
That said, he’s still a bit of a show-off. One set-piece filmed from the POV of a drugged young woman being buried alive perhaps didn’t need as much attention in the sound design to every last gasping breath as the shovelfuls of dirt hit the lens. But he is wise enough to scale back in the final reels. Overt references to Brian DePalma’s great Blow Out abound, yet Capotondi eschews his boyish virtuosity for the climax, which is just a simple conversation, during which everything important is left unsaid.
In that glorious moment, it feels like Edith Wharton wrote a film noir.
Director: Giuseppe Capotondi
Starring: Kseniya Rappoport, Filippo Timi and Antonia Truppo
Run time: 95 minutes