Filippo Timi and Ksenia Rappoport in "The Double Hour." (Samuel Goldwyn Films, Samuel…)
Is seeing really believing? Can you trust your eyes, or your emotions for that matter, to tell you what is actually happening on screen? You may think you can, but "The Double Hour" will have you doubting yourself. Big time.
A love story wrapped in a way-twisty thriller, this Italian film was made to mess with our heads. It's a wild tale that's so full of surprises, reversals and double-jointed plot twists that you wouldn't think there'd be room for anything else. But there is.
For what makes this tale something more than a puzzle to be solved is a level of emotional impact that genre exercises don't often provide, emotion traceable to sensitive acting that is similarly rare. In fact, stars Ksenia Rappoport and Filippo Timi are so good that they won the best actress and best actor awards when "Double Hour" debuted at the Venice Film Festival.
Making all this happen is first-time director Giuseppe Capotondi. Though this is his debut theatrical feature, Capotondi has more than a dozen years of extensive work on commercials and music videos to his credit, and the high level of technical skill and polish that experience has given him is essential to pulling audiences past the inevitable implausibilities and making something like "Double Hour" succeed.
For it can't be overemphasized how full of tricks and misdirection this film is. Nothing is ever completely the way it appears to be; everything we see and hear should be questioned and then questioned again. Even when the film (written by Alessandro Fabbri, Ludovica Rampoldi and Stefano Sardo) seems to be relenting and telling the truth, there is always the chance it's holding out on you.
The title "Double Hour" comes from the notion that the moments when a clock shows the same number twice — say 10:10, 11:11 or 12:12 — are magic, moments when wishes made might well come true.
If Sonia (Rappoport) were to make a wish at one of those times, it might well be for a soulmate. Half-Italian and half-Slovenian (the character was adjusted to suit Rappoport, a Russian actress who speaks fluent Italian), lonely Sonia works as a chambermaid in a hotel in Turin, a city that cinematographer Tat Radcliffe has intentionally photographed as bleak and nondescript.
Sonia is in fact lonely enough that she goes to a speed dating event where she meets Guido (Timi), a brooding, handsome guy who is not exactly a picture of happiness either. Guido reveals himself slowly, but we soon find out he's an ex-cop now working in private security, a pessimist who feels "with too many choices, we always end up making the wrong one."
Though both are understandably wary, we can feel the beginning of a connection between these guarded individuals. They start to spend a little time together, first in the city and then out in the countryside, where the beautiful surroundings seem to lift Sonia's spirits. Pasquale Catalano's insistent music, however, tells us a different story. Be afraid, it says, be very afraid.
What happens after that, and after that, and after that, should not even be hinted at, but one of the pleasures of "Double Hour" is the presence of well-drawn and acted minor characters. Fausto Russo Alesi plays a frequent hotel guest, Antonia Truppo a life-of-the-party fellow chambermaid and Michele Di Mauro a police officer friend of Guido's.
Though actor Timi does impeccable work as Guido, this film really belongs to Rappoport. The story demands an enormous amount of her, and she is never less than up to the challenge, present and accounted for and doing convincing work no matter what. The plot may take the risk of skating at the limits of credulity, but her performance always makes us believe.