Is it real or is it just a dream?
By Mark Jenkins
Friday, May 20, 2011
According to one of the characters in “The Double Hour,” when the minutes and seconds align on a 24-hour timepiece — at 23:23, for example — you can make a wish. But don’t bother wishing for this playfully deceptive Italian movie to uncoil its twisted plot. That’s not going to happen.
As it jumbles mystery, thriller and romance, the film presents its central character as perpetually dazed. Sonia (Ksenia Rappoport) is a Turin hotel maid. (In another form of doubling: Her estranged father is Italian, and she grew up in Slovenia.) At first, Sonia seems a sort of walking bad omen. In the opening scene, she enters a room and begins to clean the bathroom, only to find that the guest has thrown herself out the window.
More deaths follow, but not all of them are verifiable. Director Giuseppe Capotondi mingles reality with dreams and nightmares. One long section of the movie is — possibly — a hallucination.
Before that sequence, Sonia attends a speed-dating event where she meets Guido (Filippo Timi). He’s a widowed ex-cop, now working security for a country estate with a valuable art collection. Sonia and Guido are both lonely, if for different reasons, and their rapport seems genuine. The two bond over such simple things as walks in the woods and a shared taste for the Cure.
No longer alone in the world, Sonia briefly snaps into focus. But perhaps that’s just an act. After the estate is looted by well-organized masked men, one of Guido’s police pals suspects that Sonia knows more about the heist than she’s telling.
There’s much, much more to the story, but that’s enough for now. The movie’s enjoyment derives heavily from surprise, which the script uses both to advance the plot and just for fun.
“The Double Hour” draws on classic film noir and such Freudian freakouts as Hitchcock’s “Vertigo.” It also recalls 1960s European art films, with their fractured narratives and psychedelic montages. Add the stylish illogic of music videos — Capotondi’s former field — and a pinch of slasher-film menace, and the result is entertainingly disorienting.
Despite its multiple layers, the movie’s not all that deep, and some devices don’t work. The idea behind the movie’s title, for example, never provides a major payoff.
Aside from deft editing and sound design, what distinguishes the film from nastier-minded thrillers is its sense of romance. As Sonia, Rappoport appears lost and defenseless, and her vulnerability awakens the submerged chivalrous instincts of Timi’s Guido. Much like the 2006 French puzzler “Tell No One,” “The Double Hour” suggests that love can be stronger than the most involved of criminal plots. Of course, it might be fibbing about that, too.
Contains violence, sexual situations, nudity and drug use. In Italian with English subtitles.