Jamie Reviews Giuseppe Capotondi’s The Double Hour [PIFF 2011 Review]

A ‘double hour’ occurs when the hour is the same as the minutes on the clock. So, for instance, the first time it appears in the movie of the same name, when it’s 23:23 (I guess Italians are on the 24-hour system). If you happen to look at your watch as this occurs, you get to make a wish, like you would if you caught sight of a falling star. Or so Guido tells Sonia after they meet at a speed dating event. ‘Does it work?’ she asks. His answer is an emphatic ‘No.’

First-time director Giuseppe Capotondi and a trio of screenwriters have crafted their own Double Hour, a crime story full of dualities, second chances, and wishful fantasies. Guido (Filippo Timi, The American) is an ex-cop who uses quick hook-ups as a way to forget his dead wife. When he meets Sonia (Ksenia Rappoport), an immigrant working as a hotel chambermaid, he’s taken aback by how quickly he falls for her. He meant to have a one-night stand, but it’s him that calls her for a second date. They hit it off, and he takes her to his new job. He is a security guard for a rich man’s private estate. Too bad he picks the wrong day to shut down the alarm to spend an afternoon in the forest with his sweetheart. An organized gang of thieves have been waiting for just such an opportunity.

The aftermath of the heist is a suspenseful and occasionally trippy spin on what would otherwise be standard crime movie territory. Just how did the bad guys know what day to clean out the mansion? Was Sonia in on it? If so, why was she nearly killed? These and many other questions get batted around as the mystery unfolds. The discoveries aren’t funneled through your average police procedural, however, but the post-traumatic stress and grief of its two main characters. There are switch-ups and fake-outs, and in ways that I can’t really describe without ruining the unexpected true nature of the story. It’s like a hardboiled version of Bunuel: expect two of everything. Amusingly, the last double hour is 20:20. As in ‘hindsight is…’

Though The Double Hour is a little mad, Capotondi and cinematographer Tat Radcliffe (Showtime’s Secret Diary of a Call Girl) shoot the film as a shellshocked daze rather than a pulpy fever. There are elements of ghost stories, old-school noir, and also a little gothic romance. Special praise should be given to editor Guido Notari and the sound department, as well. Both areas are extremely important to adding tension to the guessing game. A well-timed flash of memory, a song being faded in and then slowly tuned out–these are essential to the consistent sense of doubt Capotondi is striving for. The film is ingeniously structured in how it gives us the clues to solve its own mystery, dismantles them, and then allows them to reemerge one by one. The writers avoid any final expository scenes by sneakily getting it all out of the way up front. This also means no cheap final twists. Rather, The Double Hour eases into a conclusion, with most of the final scenes soundtracked by disconnected, ambient audio, effectively conveying a mood of disquiet rather than going for the expected punch in the gut.

It’s interesting to see Filippo Timi in a more understated role after his forceful performance as Mussolini in Marco Bellocchio’s Vincere. Guido has a pronounced stoicism, and the actor hints at a profound sadness at its base. Ksenia Rappoport is also quite good portraying Sonia’s more liquid personality. Much of The Double Hour‘s bait-and-switch relies on what we choose to believe about this character, and the actress makes each possibility seem equally valid.

The Double Hour is the kind of movie you want to see with a friend so you can toss your impressions around afterwards. Though, maybe don’t take a date. Not unless you’re sure you can reaalllly trust the other person. Beware of suspicious glances as you make for the exit!

The Double Hour plays the Portland International Film Festival on 2/19, 2/21, 2/22, and 2/23.