Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Double Hour (La Doppia Oro) (Medusa/Icarus, 2009)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The film was La Doppia Ora, literally “The Double Hour,” which served as the U.S. DVD title (I have no idea whether this film got a theatrical release in this country but it is available on DVD, and I suspect the San Diego Italian Film Festival screened it from a DVD instead of a film print), and I wanted to see it because it sounded like the sort of potentially intriguing neo‑noir thriller U.S. studios could be making but hardly ever do. Directed by Giuseppe Capotondi from a script by Alessandro Fabbri, Ludovica Rampoldi and Stefano Sardo, La Doppia Ora takes place mostly in a luxury hotel in Turin in which Sonia (Ksenia Rappoport) works as a chambermaid. She joins a speed-dating club and at one of their events meets Guido (Filippo Timi), an ex-cop who’s working as a security guard at a mansion owned by a fabulously wealthy man.

The film actually opens with a sequence that’s deliberately designed to confuse us — Sonia witnesses the suicide of a woman, Margherita (Antonia Truppo), who at first seems to have been a guest in the hotel but later we find was just another chambermaid. She threw herself out of the window of the room Sonia was cleaning at the time. Then the film cuts away to the speed-dating event at which Sonia and Guido meet and the development of their relationship, which reaches its apex when he takes her to the grounds of the mansion he’s supposed to be guarding, turns off the security system so they won’t be disturbed when they make love on the grass — and then suddenly they’re overpowered by a gang of robbers in black ski masks and The Double Hour finally starts to look like a thriller. From then on Capotondi and the writing committee throw us about hither and yon, as the ski-masked robbers turn out to be a gang after the mansion owner’s art treasures, which they matter-of-factly take off the walls, seal in boxes and pack in a moving van labeled “Fast & Easy” (and the idea that a company in Italy decided to go for the marketing cachet of naming itself in English is intriguing in and of itself), which they drive off.

The robbery climaxes (pardon the pun) when Guido and Sonia, who’ve been tied up so they won’t interfere, are confronted by the ringleader and he announces that he’s going to rape Sonia; Guido, though bound, lurches over to him in an attempt to stop him and save her from the proverbial fate worse than death; and the scene cuts away, we hear a gunshot and assume Guido was killed and Sonia was raped. It certainly looks that way because the next time we see her she’s once again working at the hotel, her forehead has been creased by a passing bullet (one that presumably grazed her after passing through him and killing him) and she’s visibly nervous, at one point getting herself in trouble by shattering an expensive bottle of perfume and nearly getting herself fired. At one point she spots the Fast & Easy van, follows it in her own car, pulls up next to it in a garage, gets out, enters it — and makes mad, passionate love on the spot with the man who masterminded the robbery (confusingly cast with an actor who resembles the one playing Guido enough that, except when they’re both on screen at the same time, it’s a bit hard to remember which one is which).

Fortunately, despite a lot of twists and turns in the plot, this is the one big reversal we get — Capotondi and the writing committee at least avoid the whiplash-inducing succession of reversals Tony Gilroy inflicted on us in Duplicity (which I think was the biggest factor leading to that movie’s box-office failure) — and we’re supposed to believe that the middle third of the film is taking place in a hospital where Sonia is in a coma, and what we’re seeing is not real events in the story but her hallucinations. Characters that we’ve seen die come back to live, like Margherita (her suicide occurs again later in the film, indicating that the sequences with her are flashbacks) and Guido (not dead at all, despite having been a victim of the robbery). Eventually we learn that the fabulously rich owner of the mansion was Sonia’s father — both of them are supposed to have been émigrés from the Balkans — and that once as a teenager she let her then-boyfriend in to steal some of daddy’s art, got caught, and now decided to do the same thing with the same guy on a much larger scale. So she set out to seduce Guido because he was her father’s security person and she could use sex as a lure to get him to turn off the property’s alarm system so she and her real boyfriend could organize a gang and loot the place, sell the art and use the proceeds to re-establish themselves in Buenos Aires — which indeed they do at the end of the film.

The Double Hour sometimes seems like a Lifetime movie in Italian (though at least Lifetime would have made the woman definitely a victim instead of a perp, and they wouldn’t have given the crooks a happy ending) and sometimes like one of these maddening films being made today in which we’re largely forced to fend for ourselves in determining not only where but when we are, and while the woman who introduced the showing as part of the San Diego Italian Film Festival (who said she grew up in Turin, where the film is set and where most of it was shot) faulted it for using some of the grungier parts of the city, the locales picked were appropriately noir. It’s a well acted movie but it doesn’t really make much sense, even by the normal standards of a thriller, and we’re never told whether Sonia is basically good, evil or just crazy. It’s not at all a bad movie (and Charles gave it points for casting Filippo Timi as Guido where an American producer would have insisted on someone considerably more obviously hunky) but it’s not what it could have been either!