The thin, pasty milieu of Giuseppe Capotondi’s The Double Hour is more accurately one of manipulated and maladjusted expectation rather than of the plebian, post-tragic love or vaguely spooky mind-bends strewn about the plot. Within the first 15 minutes, the director distracts us from our hotel chambermaid protagonist with an anonymous, sepia-washed suicide, and it soon becomes clear that the scene isn’t included to flesh out the vocation’s clichés or to foreshadow crucial happenstantial sympathies; it’s a rug pullout, a vapid, free-floating symbol for self-destructiveness, and (most importantly) an indicator that the film cannot be trusted to take its characters seriously, or to entertain. The narrative picks up the existential pace to something resembling a laughable trot after the cleaning lady (Kseniya Rappoport) beds and courts a middle-aged night watchman (Filippo Timi, with beard and demeanor suggesting an Italian Ricardo Darín), but their brief, shadowy fling refuses to spellbind us with interpersonal warmth; it’s insufferably depicted by a compilation of listlessly flirty conversations and dry, stiff sex scenes (the camera tightly lingers on thrusting limbs as though it’s just as intimidated by the bored faces above them as we are).
Capotondi’s first act is so humanistically vacant that when he starts wrenching the plot to and fro, he doesn’t meet much emotional resistance; we’re not attached to these characters enough to be startled by their Vertigo-grade double-crosses, or even to doubt the ingenuousness of how they hopelessly attempt to obfuscate their tracks. Timi, affixed as the mysterious, somewhat wistful lover at the film’s epicenter, achieves the sole moments of genuinely disorientating panic, and it’s a modest feat to have transformed his avuncular visage into an implement of mild fright. But the darting, clearly digitally corrected visual surface only alienates us from the hints of honesty at the movie’s core; cinematographer Tat Radcliffe bathes the narrative’s exploits in soporific, crinkly sun that confuses stultifying crispness with atmospheric mood.
The best film twists violently realign their audience with the human universe being observed; rather than sensing that the movie has been smugly withholding information for the sake of a purely structural payoff, we become unsettlingly aware of the perils of perception. But The Double Hour, aside from cribbing its most inventive and cerebral sleight-of-hand from a top-shelf Futurama episode, seems determined to vacuum every last empathetic crumb from its cheap surprises, leaving us with a pitifully uninteresting nihilism infused with the noxious golden light of beer commercials.
The Double Hour will play on June 4 and 8 as part of this year’s Open Roads: New Italian Cinema. For details about the series, including ticketing information, click here.