The new Italian suspense picture The Double Hour is a slippery piece about slippery characters with slippery identities and slippery states of mind. So pay attention. The mere fact that summer is seeing a film release that requires the viewer’s attention is a victory in itself, and indeed The Double Hour offers the old-fashioned pleasure of an unfolding story with an unhurried pace. It’s first-time feature director Giuseppe Capotondi’s way of encouraging you to stop, look, and listen, the better to process motifs that also function as pieces to a puzzle.
In Turin, Italy, hotel chambermaid Sonia (Ksenia Rappoport) must deal with the deeply unsettling suicide of a stranger. Death hangs in the air for the rest of the film, with ghosts perhaps literal and certainly metaphorical. Sonia’s friend and co-worker Margherita (Antonia Truppo) consistently prods Sonia about her love life, leading her to a life-changing speed dating session. There, she meets ex-cop Guido (Filippo Timi of Vincere), a man still contending with his own ghosts of relationships past.
Before long, hot and heavy appears to turn serious for the couple, but then the unexpected happens. And keeps happening. Guido’s current work as a security guard—a sort of watcher in the woods responsible for a country estate’s fine art collection—gets both him and Sonia into trouble, tying a knot the rest of the film busies itself untying. Reality becomes uncertain and trust issues arise: the duplicity suggested by the title may refer to people turning up where they shouldn’t or to run-of-the-mill betrayal.
If I sound like I’m being vague, you betcha: the film gets by in no small part due to the element of surprise. The atmosphere is also crucial: despite crime and an element of danger, this is a grown-up mood piece more than a thriller, and Timi and Rappoport (named Best Actress at the Venice Film Fest) give sensitive, subtle performances that make up for the film’s chain-yanking gimmickry. Due to the actors and their chemistry—in conversation and in convincingly intense sex scenes—The Double Hour wins perhaps more audience investment than it deserves.
Despite being in large part about a security guard, Capotondi’s film is downright suffused with insecurity. Of speed dating, Guido remarks, “With too many choices, you always make the wrong one,” and signs point to his having made a mistake in choosing Sonia. Add to that Sonia’s growing distrust of her own mind, and the ostensible genre elements that seem to pitch The Double Hour somewhere between crime film and ghost story begin to look like the stuff of an allegory about modern relationships and the fright of commitment. The results are about what you’d expect from a philosophy student turned music-video director turned feature filmmaker, and though The Double Hour isn’t quite all that and a bag of cannoli, it’s worth a look.
[This review first appeared in Palo Alto Weekly.]