Films like The Double Hour frustrate by way of surplus. They present all the keys to excellence—refined visual sense, strong characterization, palpable mood—only to smear them by surrendering to less sophisticated impulses, forcing overwrought resolutions and last-second plot transformations. In this case, it’s a series of loud twists, excessive maneuvers which cut what had been a solid movie to the quick, threatening to negate the ambience and complexity it had seemed to be cultivating. Yet Giuseppe Capotondi’s first film manages to retain most of its value despite these twists, by sneakily integrating them into a resurgent third act.
The Double Hour‘s grim disposition is established in an unsettling first scene where Slovenian expatriate Sonia (Ksenia Rappoport), working as a chambermaid in a high-end Turin hotel, becomes an unwitting witness to a suicide. It’s a scene that never fully integrates into the fabric of the plot, establishing a tendency to present action via distractingly isolated incidents. Nevertheless, it’s a fitting introduction to this noirish thriller. Sonia eventually hooks up with Guido (Filippo Timi), a brooding ex-cop languishing in grief over his dead wife, and the two begin a relationship that quickly takes an unexpected turn, a surprise that leaves the film refreshingly open and seemingly unbound by convention.
How much it squanders those possibilities is open to interpretation, but Capotondi at least keeps a strong rein over the proceedings, preventing any direct slides into silliness. He falls prey to common beginner tendencies, like overeager shifts in focus and obvious visual metaphors, but aside from one bit of thudding example of restating the obvious, The Double Hour mostly redeems itself, incorporating its otherwise unfortunate twist as an organic extension of the plot.
All this is hard to describe without giving anything away, but it’s through a smart pedigree and something resembling austerity that The Double Hour ends up as stylish genre entertainment, a kind of dark, modern spin on The Postman Always Rings Twice. Sexy and elegant, with a willingness not to patronize its audience, it accrues enough in the way of ambience and emotion to eventually overcome any plot-related fussiness. It helps a lot that scenes like one with Sonia in a bathtub, straining to hear the sounds coming through her bathroom wall, are so masterfully played. The collection of small touches, like the differences in the way sound plays beneath and above the water, the frame dominated by a dark hallway lurking behind her vulnerable body, create a vibrant panorama that splits between unsettling and poignant.
It’s because of this attention to detail that The Double Hour ultimately works. As diffuse as parts of it may be, even these far-flung elements sync up because they’re hinged to visceral markers: the sad eyes of a beaten man, a tattered photo, a repeating song. In this kind of environment, the film’s characters feel fully realized despite the questionable events to which they’re subjected.