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.
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