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THE DOUBLE HOUR (2011, Italy)

SUNDAY 18th August 10.00 am 
TUESDAY 20th August 8.00 pm 
RUNNING TIME 95 minutes

SYNOPSIS
Guido (Timi), a former cop, is a luckless veteran of the speed-dating scene in Turin. But, much to his surprise, he meets Slovenian immigrant Sonia (Rappoport), a chambermaid at a high-end hotel. The two hit it off and a passionate romance develops. After they leave the city for a romantic getaway in the country, things suddenly take a dark turn. As Sonia's murky past resurfaces, her reality starts to crumble. Everything in her life begins to change – questions arise and answers only arrive through a continuous twist and turn of events, keeping viewers on edge until the film's final moments.

REVIEW BY STEPHEN HOLDEN
Attention armchair sleuths: After viewing the Italian psychological thriller The Double Hour, you may want to see it a second or even a third time to decipher its secrets. The movie, which won its stars, Ksenia Rappoport and Filippo Timi, awards at the 2009 Venice Film Festival, will put mystery bloodhounds on a scent that after about the 20-minute mark is suddenly lost.

At that point, the story slips into a parallel reality that may or not be the dream life of a woman in a coma. The scent can be picked up again in the third act, when The Double Hour snaps back to the former reality, or what looks like it, as its heroine, Sonia (Ms. Rappoport), regains consciousness in a hospital after a traumatic shooting.

The title of The Double Hour, the feature debut of Giuseppe Capotondi, a successful music-video director, refers to the moment on a digital watch when the numbers of the hour and the minute are identical, say 23:23. If your eyes happen to catch those numbers, you can make a wish, declares Sonia’s boyfriend, Guido (Mr. Timi), a former policeman turned security guard whom she meets at a speed-dating club. A gadget freak who perfected a shotgun microphone, Guido runs an elaborate security system at a lavish gated estate whose owner is rarely there.

How the superstition plays out is only a teasing embellishment to a movie split into parts that only a vigilant detective could piece together. Not to give anything away, but two clues you might miss involve a red bedspread and an enigmatic priest. Yet if, like me, you would rather get lost in a noir than try to second-guess its creators, “The Double Hour” is the best movie of its kind since the French director Guillaume Canet’s hit from 2006, Tell No One.

Ms. Rappoport’s strong resemblance to Monica Vitti, who exhibited a similar mixture of anxiety, vulnerability and wariness in Michelangelo Antonioni’s films, adds another layer of uneasiness. Sonia has recently moved from Slovenia to Turin, Italy, where she works as a chambermaid in an upscale hotel. Early in the movie, a young woman in a room she is cleaning commits suicide by jumping out the window.

Mr. Timi’s Guido, a soulful-eyed widower of three years, bears as strong a resemblance to Javier Bardem (with touches of the younger Al Pacino). Guido is an avid consumer of speed-dating sessions, which usually lead to dreary one-night stands. When he meets Sonia, she seems softer and shyer than the typical hard-boiled speed date, and their storybook romance purrs along, despite an early speed bump. While they are walking on the street one evening, a police car squeals to a stop, and an officer demands identification from Guido, to which he responds with profanity. Just as violence seems inevitable, the men fall into a bear hug; the officer, Dante (Michele Di Mauro), who reappears later, and Guido turn out to be old friends.

The first act ends with a shock. Sonia and Guido, while on a romantic woodland stroll in the back of the estate where he works, are approached by masked robbers who tie them up, drive two large trucks through the gates and ransack the place of its art treasures. When one of the robbers (Gaetano Bruno) threatens to rape Sonia, Guido frantically struggles to stop him, and a gun goes off, the bullet killing Guido and grazing Sonia’s forehead. The movie cuts away from the crime scene so abruptly that you can’t determine exactly what happened.

From here, The Double Hour, written by Alessandro Fabbri, Ludovica Rampoldi and Stefano Sardo, never lets up. The genres that the movie touches as it progresses — romance, horror thriller, post-Freudian psychological puzzle and film noir — overlap and melt into one another. The middle section, in which the semi-recovered Sonia returns to work, distracted and anxious after three days of unconsciousness, finds her (and the audience) adrift in a limbo that recalls James Stewart’s obsessive trance in Vertigo.

The Double Hour might be described as Hitchcockian in the glee with which it puts Sonia in harm’s way, and she seems to be stalked by a ghost she both fears and desires. The movie’s final images are reminiscent of Body Heat. With its extremely tight editing and breakneck pace, The Double Hour is strung through with small jolts that may or may not be leads in a circuitous pursuit of the truth. That truth, when revealed, leaves you wishing for an extra 20 minutes of diabolical mind games; you don’t want it to end.

Source: Stephen Holden, Romance or Film Noir? Both, and a Thriller - The New York Times, 14/4/2011: http://movies.nytimes.com/2011/04/15/movies/the-double-hour-italian-thriller-review.html

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