Month: April 2011

The Double Hour

When a movie goes by the tagline, “Nothing Is What It Seems,” you know you’re in for a long guessing game. For much of director Giuseppe Capotondi’s 96-minute “The Double Hour,” the viewer is wondering whether what’s unfolding up on the screen should be believed or not. What’s more, reviewing the film is an inherently dodgy exercise since one can’t really discuss or critique the movie without giving away its central conceit. Suffice it to say that Capotondi tries for a romantic mystery/thriller in the vein of Christopher Nolan’s structurally snarled “Memento” and “Inception.”

The fundamental difference between “The Double Hour” and the Nolan movies, however, is that, in “Memento” and “Inception,” the puzzle-box plots have real bearing on the larger story; they reward the viewer’s investment in them with third-act payoffs. That crucial lesson is lost on Capotondi and his screenwriters Alessandro Fabbri, Ludovica Rampoldi and Stefano Sardo. Because most of “The Double Hour” doesn’t really need to exist in order for the viewer to process the impact of the finale, when – after following its heroine for ninety minutes – the movie momentarily breaks its point of view to follow its male protagonist. And it’s through the male’s point of view, arguably, that we cash in on the entire pseudo-tragic nature of “The Double Hour’s” story and theme.

The story: A lonely, pretty Slovenian woman, Sonia (Rappoport) living in Turin, Italy meets a roguishly handsome ex-cop, Guido (Timi), now working as a security guard at a lavish estate. The two begin a tender, tentative courtship that comes to sudden, shattering halt when they fall victim to a violent robbery. During the robbery, a gunshot seriously injures Sonia. Guido’s fate is bleaker – supposedly.

Thereafter, the grieving Sonia can’t focus on her duties as a hotel housekeeper. She’s increasingly distraught and panicky, especially after Dante, a nosy detective (Michele Di Mauro), starts snooping on her. Dante suspects that Sonia was in cahoots with Riccardo (Gaetano Bruno), the mastermind behind the robbery – a charge she firmly denies.

There are teasing ambiguities as the movie accommodates two parallel storylines: There’s the actual version of events that reveals itself in due time competing with Sonia’s own version, in which characters from the former re-appear in different roles in the latter. Capotondi and the screenwriters do a neat and precise job of assiduously playing Sonia’s story without showing their hand – that is, neither confirming nor negating the parallel story. But all the movie’s psychological spookiness and breathless attempts at suspense amount to little since two-thirds of what’s on-screen is not the plot, but a plot within the plot, and, hence, of little real consequence.

For their part, Rappoport and Timi execute their roles effectively (both won acting prizes at the 66th Venice Film Festival). Timi is suitably mysterious and lovelorn, while Rappoport gamely sustains the question of whether it’s grief or guilt that motivates Sonia. Rappoport’s skillful sleight of hand hardly matters, though, since “The Double Hour’s” bogus parlor-trick of a screenplay set matters straight on its own. So straight, in fact, that you could’ve left the theater at the 15-minute mark, played arcade games in the lobby for an hour, and come back for the third act only to miss…nothing.

Grade: C

Directed by: Giuseppe Capotondi
Written by: Alessandro Fabbri, Ludovica Rampoldi, Stefano Sardo
Starring: Ksenia Rappoport, Filippo Timi, Antonia Truppo, Gaetano Bruno, Fausto Russo Alesi, Michele Di Mauro

Wretches & Jabberers

For those unfamiliar with autism – its severity and its effects on individuals and families – Gerardine Wurzberg’s documentary “Wretches & Jabberers” will be an eye-opener. Wurzberg profiles two autistic men, Tracy Thresher and Larry Bissonnette. Accompanied by their caregivers Harvey Lavoy and Pascal Cheng, Tracy and Larry travel the world, meeting with others afflicted with autism and provide them with moral support. Having been advocates for autism awareness for decades, they address conferences and classrooms in Sri Lanka, Tokyo and Helsinki on the topic on what it’s like to live with autism and to overturn misperceptions that those with autism are of limited potential and intelligence.

It’s a meaningful, worthwhile message to say that those with autism have too long been confined by cultural ignorance and that they have as much potential to contribute to society as anyone else. But Wurzberg lays it on a bit thick; once its established, her message begins to sound like a broken record, like the opening sentence to a lengthy essay that keeps getting repeated at the beginning of each new paragraph. Moreover, the decision to saturate the film with copious amounts of ad hoc pop tunes (largely of the emo variety) feels heavy-handed and at times ill advised, as when the scene of an excited autistic youngster prompts “Flight of the Bumblebee” on the soundtrack. The music adds a wistful mood generally, but it’s overused and unnecessary particularly because the film finds itself through the people inhabiting it.

By observing Tracy, Larry, Pascal and Harvey, we find genuine examples of dedication, conviction and passion. Because of severe speech defects, Tracy and Larry must type out the words they wish to communicate on writing devices – a grueling process to encapsulate thoughts and feelings letter by letter on a keypad. We see their struggle, and it’s heart-rending to watch them have emotional breakdowns out of sheer frustration. Yet, it’s through these words typed on screens that “Wretches & Jabberers” finds a kind of poetry underlining everything.

We experience the novelty of Larry and Tracy’s far-flung travels through their eyes. As strange as the food and customs of Sri Lanka, Japan and Finland may seem to them, it’s ultimately the bonds they forge with like-minded advocates and with fellow autistics that makes them (and their newfound friends and the rest of us, for that matter) feel that the world has room to include all of us.

“Wretches & Jabberers,” ultimately, charts the journey of two individuals finding purpose to their existence and cultivating the patience needed to overcome their disabilities. Wurzberg ably captures the pain and sadness inherent in Larry and Tracy’s struggles – Tracy, for instance, does not have a permanent home – but both men project humor and thoughtfulness despite everything. Just as inspiring is to watch the intense solidarity and companionship shown by Harvey and Pascal throughout, helping Larry and Tracy overcome their frustrations, treating them with the dignity they deserve. It’s by engaging with all these extraordinary people that the film’s beauty reveals itself.

Grade: B+

Directed by: Gerardine Wurzberg
Cast: Larry Bissonnette, Tracy Thresher