The Double Hour Dir. Giuseppe Capotondi

[Samuel Goldwyn Films; 2011]

Styles: mystery drama
Others: Mulholland Dr.

With The Double Hour, screenwriters Alessandro Fabbri, Ludovica Rampoldi, and Stefano Sardo may have solved a problem that has been plaguing hack scenarists for decades: how to improve upon or meaningfully subvert that old chestnut, the ‘all just a dream’ device. Instead of using the idea of a ludicrous series of events being simply some mad, arbitrary dream as a means of excusing the fantastical nature of a convoluted post-noir plot, they have taken the idea of a ‘dream’ as a residual jumble of meaningful images and ideas from a given dreamer’s recent life — then again, if the words meaningful and recent were removed from that sentence, then the idea would veer a bit closer to reality, but, after all, this is a movie — and used it as an expository device, to reconstruct, for the viewer, events preceding the story’s late point of action. Indeed, rather than present a series of intentionally obscured clues to the viewer, from which he or she might deduce the truth, the filmmakers have achieved the same obfuscatory effect by presenting their clues as dream fragments half-remembered by the character Sonia (Kseniya Rappoport) while in a brief coma.

Since this is the principle, if not the sole, achievement of director Giuseppe Capotondi’s Venice Film Festival-sweeping film, it is worth exploring in some detail: One morning, mousy cleaning lady Sonia witnesses a horrible suicide. She later attends a speed-dating event where she meets ex-cop, ex-alcoholic, and now security technician for a stately manor Guido (Filippo Timi). The stage seems to be set for a sad-sack romance until, as most cruel fortune would have it, when Guido leaves his post for a few minutes to show Sonia some highly romantic vegetation around the stately manor, it is burglarized by a team of surprisingly highly organized and curiously well-funded heist men. After the house is cleaned out, one of the baddies decides to take liberties with the tied-up Sonia (oh, but don’t they always, those bastards!), at which point Guido, being an ex-cop, intervenes (how like an ex-cop! Those heroes!) resulting in (what appears to be) his death; Sonia gets away with a non-fatal gunshot wound to the forehead.

This is where The Double Hour gets a little confusing: not only does Sonia begin to experience auditory hallucinations relating to a song Guido played for her shortly before his (supposed) death, but she encounters variously ‘real’ apparitions of Guido, whose spirit may have some unresolved issues with her. She’s also being haunted by his ex-colleague Dante (Michele Di Mauro), who, like the shrewder viewers, wonders if the heist was less an unbelievable plot convolution than a part of Sonia’s or the film’s grand scheme. I won’t say any more — as difficult as it may be to believe, I haven’t even really spoiled the ending — but The Double Hour would be worth seeing solely for the narrative innovations of its twisty, thorny plot if it didn’t also feature a virtuosic performance from Russian actress Kseniya Rappoport, who exudes sufficient coolness to justify either the role of grid-lifer crushed by fate or treacherous, emotionally detached conspirator. The film’s ‘haunting’ sequences trump most modern horror films in terms of real palpable tension and anxiety, and the only (additional) drawbacks of the film are a slightly annoying stock ‘neurotic friend of female protagonist’ character, some ‘ex-cop’s colleague’isms and, of course, the lack of anything remotely resembling human beings interacting meaningfully, which often and understandably afflicts films based on scripts overly preoccupied with clever constructions.

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