Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Nov 21, 2010 1:15 pm 
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Two lonely people, a romance, a robbery, a mystery, a dream

The Double Hour, an intriguing and very successful Italian noirish thriller built around a quiet romance, begins with the unpromising setting of "speed dating." In a big room bells a few minutes apart signal shifts of table. The unfortunate men and women sip drinks through straws and warily consider each other, exchanging names and neutral pleasantries. If they like anyone they pass numbers to the scrawny, cigarette-puffing hostess on their way out. Thus does Guido (Filippo Timi of Bellocchio's Vincere), who tells the hostess he's her best and most faithful customer, meet Sonia (Ksenia Rappoport of Tornatore's acclaimed mystery melodrama An Unknown Woman). Since Sonia is a ringer for Antonioni's alluring muse Monica Vitti and Guido would be a very reasonable stand-in for Javier Bardem at his most sexy and mellow, things look more than a little promising. But our couple is living a shadow existence. Sonia is half Italian and half Slovenian, a virtual orphan, rejected by her father. She works anonymously tidying rooms in a Turin hotel with her pal Margherita (Antonia Truppo). Guido is an ex-cop who's reduced to manning the elaborate electronic security system of a large and very posh villa outside town.

The title is like one of Wong Kar-wai's cute devices: Guido tells Sonia about the idea that when the numbers are double on the clock, 11:11 or 20:20 or 09:09, you can make a wish. Is it true? He doesn't think so. But double hours keep popping up in a story that continually blends the sinister and the romantic. The Double Hour is pervaded by a sepia-toned dreaminess as well as danger. The writing works, very well in fact; the direction and editing are spot-on. The casting is brilliant. At the heart of a complicated whirl of overlapping, tricky sequences are the two protagonists' faces, Timi's full of warm irony, Rappoport's sad, yet hopeful. Emotions flit across Rappoport's face so quickly and clearly, like small clouds on a windy day, no novel's interior monologue is necessary. The moodiness and love-longing linger even though the romance has been curt short early by a violent surprise.

And that surprise is a shock. Twenty minutes in (but enough time to establish lots of mood), the couple are held at gunpoint in a burglary. Shots ring out. Identities and loyalties become suddenly far less clear, and what will finally happen remains a mystery that is only resolved in the final seconds. Sonia has to struggle to piece events together. What happened and how? We think we know and then we don't. Suffice it to say that writers Alessandro Fabbr, Ludovica Rampoldi, and Stefano Sardo have collaborated closely with the director and the stars to produce a movie whose many motifs and complications -- some of which are just vaguely sinister characters, like Guido's omnipresent cop friend Dante (Michele Di Mauro) and the hotel's fastidious deputy director (Lorenzo Gioielli) -- recur so rhythmically that a unified mood develops, and holds you in its spell. And though there remain many might-have-been possibilities we're left to muse upon, the movie does not leave us hanging. The rhythm and flow are nicely handled, and despite the need of doubling back a bit to make things finally clear, a hundred recurrent objects and faces are skillfully manipulated to maintain the mystery and yet wind up with a simple, unified sense of things. Horror and mystery alternate with romance in the rapid shifting of genres. The spirit of Dario Argento was present at the conception of The Double Hour as well as Antonnioni's.

Though first-timer Capotondi is a veteran of fashion shoots and music videos, he and his crew never succumb to the lure of chicness. Tat Radcliffe's cinematography makes much use of mobile hand-held shots to convey a sense of danger and uncertainty. The look is a little rough at times but there's also a poetry in the images of disheveled hotel bedrooms and shuttered flats.

With beginner's luck no doubt, Capotondi, whose film debuted at Venice, conspires successfully with his writers to break one of the cardinal rules of mystery-writing: he undercuts a large chunk of his narrative two thirds of the way through (the revelation comes when one hour and one minute have passed, at 01:01). In other ways, everything is done right, and some aspects of the noir genre pay off well. Sonia's distracted air of uncertainty and Guido's genial sense of being a loser somehow make their finding each other seem both happy and doomed. Somebody is certainly likely to go down, or just return to the speed dating place and the scrawny lady with her perpetual cigarette. A girl has jumped out a hotel room window. Somewhere there is a snapshot of a happy couple in a big South American city. There are glimpses of faces, and notices in the want ads may be signals.

After seeing this film one feels more then willing to see it again soon. One also has the feeling that Rappoport and Timi can do anything and one hopes they'll have a chance to.

The Double Hour/La doppia ora, 102 min, a film in Italian, was shown and reviewed as part of the San Francisco Film Society's New Italian Cinema Series, screened Friday, November 19, 9:00 pm at Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema, San Francisco. It has also been shown in Italian series in NYC and Seattle and previewed in Santa Monica. There is interest in buying the rights to a US remake.

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