The stylish, twisty Italian thriller The Double Hour opens with a bang: While Turin hotel chambermaid Sonia (Kseniya Rappoport) is cleaning the lavatory of an upper-story room, the guest staying there — a seemingly cheerful young woman — steps out of the window and plummets to her death on the concrete below.
Seemingly rattled by this event and harboring some unspoken emotional bruises from back home in Slovenia, the immigrant Sonia sparks with a mysterious local named Guido (Filippo Timi) at the end of a night of otherwise fruitless speed dating. And a desperate, vigorous one-night stand blooms, surprisingly, into what seems to be a sweet adult romance — two lost, lonely souls finding each other.
Guido, it turns out, is a widower and retired cop turned security guard. Guido brings Sonia to the lavish estate he guards, turning off the alarm system for a brief, romantic walk in the woods, where he confesses, "I wasn't ready for you." And then, in an instant, everything changes.
In short order, this budding romance is complicated by violent intervention, a suspicious cop, a potential ghost, a second suicide, suggestions of mental breakdown, a recurring Cure song ("In Between Days"), a disconcerting photograph, and other complications that spur the viewer to wonder what's real and what's not.
If that all seems vague, that's intentional. This is definitely a film where too much plot synopsis will ruin the effect.
The film's increasing mystery and discomfort carries echoes of late Alfred Hitchcock (especially Vertigo) and early Roman Polanski (Repulsion), with a late-breaking bit of Brian DePalma (Blow Out) thrown in. Rappoport, a Russian actress who won Best Actress at the 2009 Venice Film Festival for her performance here, is capable of taking the film anywhere it wants to go. In a sophisticated, maturely erotic performance, Rappoport carries every twist and mood shift with her expressive face. Her Sonia emerges as a classic-style noir heroine.
But The Double Hour's wild, quick plot twists — including a well-conceived and sense-making doozy midway through — are more akin to modern thrillers, and that's where the film lands. Though the adult romance at the center of the film is played for real stakes, the ultimate focus is on plot rather than the more ecstatic psychological, emotional, or aesthetic aims of the classic films and filmmakers being evoked.
Ultimately, this satisfying, sexy thriller isn't quite bold enough, with first-time feature filmmaker Giuseppe Capotondi, a veteran of fashion photography and music video, providing direction that is softer and soapier than the material needs.
The Double Hour
Opening Friday, June 3rd